Archer's gFET Biochip: Next-Gen Disease Detection

23-08-2023 | By Robin Mitchell

Recently, Archer Materials has demonstrated its latest gFET technology, which allows for a single device to selectively detect multiple diseases, potentially providing rapid electronic testing in the future. What challenges do disease-detecting FETs face, what has Archer Materials developed, and how could it help with future pandemics?

Close-up view of a silicon wafer being manufactured at an advanced semiconductor foundry dedicated to producing microchips.

What challenges do disease-detecting FETs face?

With the COVID pandemic now behind us, the world is finally able to see some degree of normality, with the exception of rapid inflation, a war in Ukraine, and a potential for a housing market crash. While recent data suggests COVID wasn't as severe as initially thought, it still posed significant global challenges. However, by far, the biggest issue presented by COVID-19 was a combination of its rapid spread and difficulty in testing. 

Of course, testing kits were eventually developed, but these arguably came in too late, as it was the initial spread of COVID that did the most damage. The long development time of such kits was a result of the need to sequence the COVID-19 virus (as it had only just existed) and that tests utilise complex biological processes that take time to research and test. 

The Promise of gFET Technology

However, the emerging graphene FET (gFET) technology shows promise. Simply put, these transistors are constructed using a single layer of graphene that provides engineers with a multitude of connectivity options with regard to bonding with substances. 

For disease detection, specific viruses can bond with the graphene layer, altering its conductivity. From there, a rapid test can be developed without the need to necessarily sequence the entire genome of the virus. Furthermore, it is also possible to utilise electric fields to integrate selectivity so that only specific viruses will result in a reaction.

But for all the benefits that gFETs introduce, there are some challenges that prevent their use commercially. Firstly, in order for a gFET to have a degree of selectivity, engineers still need to develop changes in the design, which can take a long time. 

Secondly, once bonded with a virus or chemical market, reusing a gFET can be difficult, if not impossible, due to the chemical bond. This can make gFET detectors a one-off sensor that must be disposed of after use.

While this isn’t a massive issue for rapid electronic testers, trying to produce such devices in bulk while keeping them cost-effective can be challenging. One solution can be to make the sensor section detachable while the base unit is capable of working with multiple sensor options.

Thirdly, as gFET technology is not mature, production challenges can make it difficult to produce on scale. This lack of maturity also manifests itself in other production-related issues, including thermal management, stability, and integration with other technologies. 

Archer Materials develops gFET devices ready for commercialisation

Archer Materials Limited, an Australian semiconductor company, has made significant strides in the development of a next-generation biochip fabrication using graphene field-effect transistors (gFETs).

Their recent achievements highlight the transformative potential of gFET technology in the medical diagnostics sector. This progress, detailed in their press release, emphasises Archer's commitment to pioneering advancements in disease detection.

As highlighted in Archer's recent newsletter, the company has embarked on its first Multi-Project Wafer runs, showcasing a proof of concept for a biosensing graphene transistor tailored for biochip integration. This move signifies a pivotal transition from the conceptual phase to a tangible design, marking a significant milestone in biochip development.

The first-generation hardware and software of the system platform, announced in July 2023, utilised single isolated gFETs as virus detectors. However, recognising the challenges faced with gETs, Archer’s latest gFET design is even more sophisticated and allows for single-device multiplexing. This means that the biochip can sense different liquid samples and test for multiple diseases simultaneously.

One of the pivotal milestones Archer has reached is the successful completion of a proof of concept for a biosensing graphene transistor tailored for its biochip. This design has been submitted to a commercial foundry for a Multi-Project Wafer run, aiming to verify the scalability of Archer’s design. The anticipation is high, with chip deliveries expected by the end of 2023.

In a strategic move to ensure the product's reliability and scalability, Archer initiated discussions with potential global foundry partners. The goal is to conduct initial small production runs of its graphene chip designs, marking a significant step towards the potential commercialisation of Archer’s biochip technology.

Technical Advancements

Diving deeper into the technical aspects, Archer's first-generation graphene field effect transistor (gFET) design is being transferred to a foundry partner. This comes after the successful completion of its optical lithography-compatible chip layout. The design intricacies, including electrodes, bond pads, and other graphene components, are tailored to enhance the scalability of the biochip’s sensor device design.

Innovations and Advancements in gFET Design

The gFET design incorporates functional surfaces and components for both sensor and control purposes within the biochip platform. Additionally, the integration of gFET design components enables real-time fine-tuning and control of the electronic properties of graphene.

Archer's commitment to innovation is evident as they transfer their pioneering graphene field effect transistor design to a commercial foundry partner. This transition follows the successful completion of an optical lithography-compatible chip layout. Furthermore, Archer has initiated discussions with potential global foundry partners, aiming for initial small production runs of their graphene chip designs. This strategic move is geared towards evaluating the product's reliability in real-world scenarios.

Archer has also improved its biochip system platform testing capabilities to develop a more accurate sensor. An upgraded automated testing platform now conducts both control software and readout hardware more efficiently, while progress toward automated data analysis allows end-users to extract high-quality data with ease.

The advanced gFET design complements the proof-of-concept biosensing gFET announced earlier, which was already submitted for a Multi-Project Wafer run at a commercial foundry. The completed devices from that design are expected to be delivered by the end of 2023. In contrast, the more complex gFETs on a single four-inch wafer are scheduled to be delivered by the additional commercial foundry partner by the same timeline.

With an optimistic outlook, Dr. Mohammad Choucair, CEO of Archer, anticipates the completed runs to be delivered by the end of 2023. He expressed his eagerness to update stakeholders on the progress towards achieving foundry compatibility and the scaled manufacturing of Archer’s innovative graphene-based sensors for biochip integration.

CEO's Vision

Dr. Mohammad Choucair, CEO of Archer, expressed his enthusiasm for the more advanced gFET design, highlighting its improved detection and control abilities for multiple diseases on a single chip. He emphasised that the technology’s commercialisation is progressing well, with strategic partnerships established within the semiconductor supply chain.

As the medical community seeks better disease detection and analysis methods to enhance patient outcomes, Archer’s gFET biochip design offers a promising solution. By detecting multiple diseases at once and improving user experience, the technology could revolutionise medical diagnostics and open new possibilities for the future operation of Archer’s biochip.

How could such devices help fight against future pandemics?

gFETs and other electronic sensors hold tremendous potential in the fight against future pandemics. Their unique properties, sensitivity, and real-time monitoring capabilities can play a crucial role in various aspects of pandemic management and prevention.

Their high sensitivity to changes in their surroundings makes them ideal for early detection of viruses and pathogens. These sensors can be integrated into diagnostic devices to quickly identify infectious agents in patient samples, enabling rapid and accurate diagnosis. 

Furthermore, if integrated into wearable devices, they can even be used to passively test the immediate environment, providing users with a warning when detecting trace amounts of a viral compound. 

gFETs hold promise, but their integration into pandemic strategies needs collaboration among semiconductor firms, healthcare institutions, and governments. Addressing challenges such as scalability, cost, and sensitivity optimisation will be essential to unlock their full potential in combatting future pandemics effectively. As technology continues to advance, gFETs and electronic sensors are poised to play an increasingly critical role in safeguarding public health on a global scale.

Conclusion and Future Implications

The advancements in gFET technology, as showcased by Archer Materials, underscore the intersection of semiconductor technology and healthcare. As we move forward, the synergy between these sectors will only grow stronger, offering innovative solutions to global health challenges. The potential of gFETs in detecting and managing future pandemics is just the tip of the iceberg. As research progresses, we can anticipate even more groundbreaking applications that could revolutionise diagnostics, treatment, and patient care.


By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation, developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.