A number of strategies to meet the need for a small and inexpensive biosensor that mitigates military and civilian vulnerabilities to biological weapons are currently being pursued. Among them is UV induced biological fluorescence. UV induced biofluorescence is a potentially successful strategy because it involves no chemical consumables and it is an "on-line" detection method where particles can be interrogated without impaction onto a substrate or into a liquid. Indeed, there are already existing fluorescence based sensors already in place, yet these are limited by the cost and power consumption of the laser based UV excitation sources. Fortunately, inexpensive and low power solid state UV sources arising from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) Semiconductor UV Optical Sources (SUVOS) project have become commercially available in wavelengths capable of exciting aromatic amino acids (e.g. tryptophan) and metabolic products (e.g. NADH). The TAC-Bio Sensor is capable of exploiting either source wavelength and will ultimately include both source wavelengths within a single sensor.
Initial work with the deep UV sources involves the correct optical filtering for the devices. The primary emission from both the 280 nm and 340 nm devices occurs at the design wavelength and is about 20 nm FWHM, however, there is a tail extending to the longer wavelengths that interferes with the fluorescence signal. A system of optical filters that sufficiently removes the long wavelength component from the UV source is designed and tested for the deep UV sources. Ongoing work with the sensor has confirmed that sensitivity to small biological particles is enhanced with the deeper wavelengths. When the 340 nm sources are placed in the TAC-Bio, it is capable of detecting 4 micron diameter Bacillus globigii (BG, Dugway, washed 4X) spore agglomerates. The deep UV sources show an improvement in signal to noise of 2, permitting the detection of 3 micron diameter BG agglomerates.