Logo: University of Southern California

Andrea Armani Receives Young Investigator Award

Office of Naval Research recognizes Mork Family Department faculty member for innovation in biosensor design
Diane Ainsworth
March 28, 2009 —

Andrea Armani, an assistant professor in the USC Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, has been chosen to receive an Office of Naval Research (ONR) Young Investigator Award for her proposal titled “Interferometric Optical Biosensor.”

Armani Cropped
Andrea Armani

The Young Investigator Award is a highly competitive award given to researchers with a demonstrated record of creativity in research and with the potential for future outstanding contributions.  This year, only 15 young investigators were recognized out of the 193 proposals that were received. The awards are funded for "up to $170,000 per year for three years," according to the ONR website.
“This is wonderful news,” said USC Mork Family Department interim chair Edward Goo. “Andrea has been conducting some very promising research in optical biosensors using an unusual detection technique. We are very happy that ONR has chosen to honor her.”    
The award will fund a three-year research effort focused on developing an optical biosensor capable of detecting DNA and bacteria with high precision.  During the course of the project, both novel optical devices and surface functionalization methods will be developed. This innovation in sensor technology could enable a small, potentially portable device with low power requirements.
Possible uses could include monitoring a soldier’s health or checking food and water supplies for bacteria. In medicine, the ability to distinguish between viral and bacterial infections could lead to more accurate diagnoses and earlier interventions against disease.  Armani said the technology could be especially important in areas where health care infrastructure is less developed and advanced hospital care is distant or unavailable.  

Armani received her B.A. in physics from the University of Chicago (2001) and her Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in applied physics with a minor in biology (2007). From 2006-2008, she was the Clare Boothe Luce Post-doctoral Fellow in chemical engineering and biology.  

The overall research thrust of the Armani lab is the design, demonstration and optimization of novel optical devices for studying biological and chemical systems.  Current research projects include ultra-sensitive detectors that have single molecule capabilities, as well as integrating such sensors into fluidic platforms.  Applications include improving existing sensor systems for healthcare diagnostics and exploring fundamental biological processes, such as cell signaling and membrane trafficking.