Technologies for the Future

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Physics


Internationally leading science requires experimental facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. Advanced materials are a key driver of technological innovation, with widespread benefits for both science and society. In this project, we aim to refresh four facilities with impact across Physics, Electronics, Chemistry and Biology in order to enhance our capability in this area, with maximum usage across the University of York and beyond. We will install new physical and chemical characterisation systems to support a range of challenging new applications, for example, state of the art thin film growth capabilities, and biologically-inspired sensor technologies. Using these new facilities, we will achieve four major milestones for next-generation materials development:

1. Refresh thin film growth capabilities in order to develop next generation materials.

2. Renew electron microscopy facilities to facilitate high spatial resolution mapping of next generation materials.

3. Extend and refresh a capability in molecular characterisation to underpin multidisciplinary activities spanning the physical and life sciences.

4. Refresh, complement and extend the capabilities of the York Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry (CoEMS) by addition of a high-performance Orbitrap Fusion instrument.

Through this proposal we will invest in state-of-the-art equipment that will enable us to create, analyse and understand new materials and use them to develop innovative interdisciplinary technologies within the university and with outside collaborators, including key industrial partners such as JEOL and Seagate.

Planned Impact

The investment in the four York equipment bundles to provide state-of-the-art equipment in advanced materials and analytical science will significantly enhance our capability to produce economic and societal impact of our research in the areas supported. This will be done by ensuring that the opportunities for licencing IP, creating commercial ventures and engaging with users are optimised, in addition to building the skills and capabilities of future employees in key industrial sectors related to advanced materials and analytical science. The impacts of the research will be enabled by externally facing facilities at the University of York, such as the Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry (CoEMS), the York Plasma Institute and the York JEOL Nanocentre.

Bundle 1: Advanced Materials for Next generation Devices
This has the potential to impact of RF and microwave applications of magnetic materials by providing the size reduction and increased performance required for developments in mobile devices. The development of new magnetic materials can help remove fundamental physical bottlenecks to enable the field of spintronics to be fully exploited in the field of data storage. The equipment will also increase the understanding of plasma surface interactions which are key to understanding the applications of plasma technologies, which have the potential to be used in advanced manufacturing, medicine and materials science. The equipment provided in Bundle 1 will also have impacts on nanofabrication techniques, big data technologies and oxide based electronics.

Bundle 2: Replacement of FE-SEM with Associated Sample Preparation Tools
This replacement will ensure that the impacts that can be derived by FE-SEM are optimised. The significant funding already in place and the relevance of the tool to the project ensures that the equipment would make a impact across a wide range of technical areas. Also, the high number of industrially related projects in those bidding for the equipment will ensure that work of high impact will result. This bundle of equipment has the capability to have an impact in the field of Big Data by contributing to the development of low cost processors via the development of non-destructive evaluation methods of junction uniformity. The equipment will support developments that will have an impact in the semiconductor industry and be of benefit to companies who provide testing and characterisation services to that industry.

Bundle 3: Bio-Inspired Technologies
The equipment provided in this bundle will support research at the interface of the physical and biological sciences with the potential to have impact on a broad spectrum of stakeholders from manufacturers of analytical and diagnostic equipment, the electronics industry and software developers to healthcare providers and utility companies. The equipment will enable further exploration in the use of biological principals to inspire software and hardware solutions, including low-power DNA-electronic hybrid systems and autonomous swarm robotics. This bundle will also underpin many potential impacts in the healthcare sector, such as tissue engineering and clinical diagnostics where it will enhance the understanding of protein-protein interactions at the cellular level. Other impacts include the development of new technologies for monitoring air and water pollution.

Bundle 4: Orbitrap Fusion Mass Spectrometer
This equipment will enable impacts in the areas of biological, pharmaceutical, chemical, geological, environmental and historical/archaeological science, and support research in the high impact areas of bioenergy, catalysis, materials, tissue engineering, and antimicrobial resistance. The addition of the Orbitrap Fusion to the CoEMS will make the facility the pre-eminent open-access mass spectrometry facility in the UK and so will help deliver impacts through the research across the N8 Consortium as well as more broadly in the UK.


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Juan-Colás J (2017) Dual-Mode Electro-Optical Techniques for Biosensing Applications: A Review. in Sensors (Basel, Switzerland)

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Juan-Colás J (2016) The electrophotonic silicon biosensor. in Nature communications

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Koutsoumpeli E (2015) Probing molecular interactions with methylene blue derivatized self-assembled monolayers in Sensing and Bio-Sensing Research

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White SJ (2015) The influence of two-dimensional organization on peptide conformation. in Angewandte Chemie (International ed. in English)

Description Bundle 3 - Electronics
Most significant achievements:
In recognition of this award, the Department of Electronics funded the refurbishment of the new Bio-Inspired technologies lab. This is now complete and all equipment is in place and operational. The laboratory is a highly interdisciplinary facility and is already supporting a range of research activities across the university (see examples below). More broadly, this award has enabled us to establish new collaborations with national and international university partners.

Inter-Disciplinary activity:
Prof. Potts (Biology): Self-assembly of functional nanostructures using novel protein scaffolds.
Prof. Krauss (Physics): Photonic biosensor arrays for future healthcare technology.
Dr Douthwaite (Chemistry): Electrochemical characterisation of new photocatalytic materials.
Prof. Tyrrell (Electronics): Bio-inspired computation
Prof. Leake (Physics): Single-molecule imaging of DNA damage
Dr. Kroger (Physics): Structure and function of biomineralisation proteins
Prof. Boxall (Environment): Antibody-mimetic sensors for environmental monitoring.
Prof. Timmis (electronics): 3D printed autonomous robotics

Inter-University collaboration:
Prof. Walti (University of Leeds)
We are collaborating on two research programmes that make use of the equipment facilitated by this award.
1. Hybrid peptide-electronics: Research involves the use of FT-IR to characterise the structure of helix-loop-helix peptides when immobilised and under the influence of an electric field. A paper and EPSRC proposal are in preparation.
2. Surface acoustic waves for cell-sorting: Research exploits the 3D printing facilities to prototype microfluidic devices for sample handling.

Dr. Johns Evans (New York University): A model "mini-proteome" for biomineralizing nanocrystal. A paper has been submitted to the ACS journal Biochemistry (22/02/2016).

Dr. Sarah Satinland (University of Sheffield): Biomineralization proteins for self-assembly of high-density memory storage. This collaboration has been awarded a White Rose BBSRC DTP studentship.

To what extent were the objective met?
1. All equipment requested is operational and housed in a newly refurbished laboratory.
2. A management team has been established consisting of Dr Johnson (Electronics) and Prof. Leake (Dept. Physics) with representatives from the departments of Chemistry and Biology, reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of the facility. Technical support agreement has been reached with hosting department and a funding structure developed for long term support of the facility.
3. The new equipment is already producing data and developing understanding far in advance of what was previously possible, and much needed capacity.

Bundle 4 - as for Bundle 3, the instrumentation was put out to tender, bids were received, and the most favourable offer was the one chosen. This covered the demands of the tender by provision of two separate instruments, that are both installed, commissioned, and working very productively indeed, and in very high demand. One of the two instruments runs at well above its full capacity, and the other at capacity. The instruments are supporting the research of a very interdisciplinary team of users, including chemists, biologists, archaeologists, environmental scientists and physicists, from the region, the country and internationally, Some of the work has generated some high profile outputs that included significant coverage in the press, e.g. Smith RK, Stacey RJ, Bergström E, Thomas-Oates J. (2018). Detection of opium alkaloids in a Cypriot base-ring juglet.. The Analyst, 143 (21), pp. 5127-5136 . This work, which was collaborative with the science department at the British Museum generated a good deal of interest in the national and international press, including an interview with first author Dr Rachel Smith, on Radio 4's Today programme. Other users have made good use of the instrumentation to cement prestigious international collaborations, including with scientists at the US Geological Survey (e.g. Burns EE, Carter LJ, Kolpin DW, Thomas-Oates J, Boxall ABA. (2018). Temporal and spatial variation in pharmaceutical concentrations in an urban river system.. Water research, pp. 72-85). The instruments have also leveraged further investment and external collaborations with researchers, but also importantly with industry, notably resulting in two new PhD studentships, one an iCASE award and the other an IBiolIC award with two different pharmaceutical companies, collaboration with a food company, and an FDB Strategic Partnership Award.

The availability of the instrumentation and the routes by which it can be accessed are publicised both through the Centre of Excellence in Mass Spectrometry (CoEMS) website (, as well as through the website of the BioScience Technology Facility's Metabolomics and Proteomics Laboratory (, through which fee-for-service access is provided.
Exploitation Route Bundle 3 - Electronics
Research funding: The facility and equipment supported by this award will be used to support further funding proposals. Two research proposals reliant on this equipment have already been submitted:
1. MRC Discovery Award, Awarded £679,802, 2016-2018, Biophysics of Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Cells to Tissues, M Coles, S Johnson, C Baumann, P Kaye, T Krauss, M Leake, P. O'Toole, J Potts, A Rot, M. Van der Woude
2. BBSRC Tools and Resources, Submitted £186,974.26, 2016-2018, ELPHS: Electro-Photonac sensors for targetted antibiotic treatment, S. Johnson, T. Krauss, A. Dume-Klair, A. Parkin, G. Thomas, J. Ensor

Engagement and collaboration: Long-term support of this facility requires extensive collaboration across disciplines and sectors. We have already established a strong interdisciplinary user base in the University of York and are beginning to establish collaborations across the higher education sector. We have also started engaging more with potential industry partners (e.g. Cybula, Aptamer Group) and are currently establishing advertising material (website, flyers) to advertise our facilities more broadly.

Bundle 4 - the new PhD studentships will further cement in one case, and in the other, open up new industrial collaborations. The FDB strategic partnership also opens up significant new possibilities. A broad range of other grants is being submitted by many potential users on an ongoing basis; there are far too many to list separately here. The outputs of the instruments' users are further disseminated via our twitter feed, as well as by listing the publications on the CoEMS website, via talks at conferences and in departmental seminars in this country and abroad, and via Bioscience Technology Facility insight and user days. The bundle 4 PI (Thomas-Oates) has also just been named as the British Mass Spectrometry Society Lecturer for 2019; this lectureship is awarded by the society every two-three years, and involves the recipient in presenting around 10 lectures in different locations across the country and abroad to publicise and make better known the technique of mass spectrometry and the applications to which it can be put - this will be an excellent way to further disseminate some of the work being done on the instruments funded by this grant.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink

Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)





Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description The facilities established by this award allowed us to develop and demonstrate an innovative sensor that is able of detecting the early stages of bacterial biofilm formation. While developed originally to address challenges associated with biofilms in the healthcare sector, we were approached by Proctor and Gamble to explore whether this innovative technology could be deployed within their manufacturing plants to provide an early indication of bacterial contamination. This collaboration is continuing through the InnovateUK ARGUS project which includes a steering group and access to a range of UK industries all facing similar challenges of microbial management across their supply chains, and all with an interest in using the project outputs in their own manufacturing businesses e.g., Mondelez (food and drink industry), AkzoNobel (manufacturers of paints and coatings), Syngenta (manufacturers of fertiliser products) and Airbus (Biofuels).
First Year Of Impact 2021
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Energy,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology
Impact Types Economic

Description ARGUS
Amount £248,554 (GBP)
Funding ID 89527 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 10/2021
Description Biophysics of Infection and Immunity: from Molecules to Cells to Tissues
Amount £680,000 (GBP)
Funding ID MC_PC_15073 
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2016 
End 08/2017
Description Developing rice straw for animal feed
Amount £389,922 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/P022499/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2019
Description Environmental drivers of antimicrobial resistance in Sri Lanka
Amount £99,600 (GBP)
Organisation Medical Research Council (MRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Description GCRF: Assessing treatment with miltefosine as an intervention strategy for visceral leishmaniasis in Brazil
Amount £429,324 (GBP)
Funding ID MR/P024483/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2017 
End 12/2018
Description High definition ion-mobility mass spectrometry and imaging for metabolomics, lipidomics and glycomics
Amount £679,848 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/R013403/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 04/2019
Description Immuno Diagnostix (IDX) - An ultrasensitive, low cost photonic biosensor
Amount £963,368 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V047434/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2021 
End 08/2024
Description Multiparameter Assay for Profiling Susceptibility (MAPS)
Amount £1,127,252 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P02324X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2017 
End 07/2022
Description Phytodetoxification of the explosive 2,4,6-trinitrotoluene
Amount £664,365 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/P005713/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2017 
End 03/2020
Description Research Project: PhytoPharm
Amount £114,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 706151 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 07/2017 
End 07/2019
Description Resonant and shaped photonics for understanding the physical and biomedical world
Amount £5,023,462 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P030017/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 08/2020
Description Sensors for clean water: a participatory approach for technology innovation
Amount £1,182,012 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P027571/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 04/2020
Description Industrial collaboration: Aptamer solutions 
Organisation Aptamer Group
Department Aptamer Solutions
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Facilities funded through this Equipment grant have supported new collaborative activity with Aptamer solutions on the development on DNA-aptamer diagnostics for the detection of antibiotics. Specifically, we have employed the 3D printing facilities to construct a bespoke fluid cell for housing DNA-funcitonalised electronic devices and employed PM-IRRAS to characterise the immobilised DNA aptamer. This collaboration was supported by an EPSRC IAA award. We have extended this collaboration to support Aptamer group in the development of DNA aptamers against the COVID-19 S1 spike protein. We are currently investigating translation of this technology onto a low-cost, label-free biosensor platform for development of point of care diagnostic devices for use at point of care or in low and middle income countries.
Collaborator Contribution Aptamer solutions have provided: 1. DNA aptamers selected against our chosen antibiotic (identity withheld due to commercial sensitivity) 2. Advice and technical support in Aptamer-based assay development and optimisation 3. Selection of a new aptamer against a bacterial protein (identity withheld due to commercial sensitivity) 4. Five aptamers selected against the COVID-19 S1 spike protein alongside protein reagents for assay development.
Impact We have demonstrated proof-of-concept technology based on DNA aptamer for the detection of antibiotics. Through this award we have also identified the potential of DNA aptamers for the detection of bacterial proteins and have extended our collaboration to include selection of a new aptamer against a target protein. Such technology has the potential for wide application, including the development of a diagnostic for detecting bacterial contamination of water. We have fully characterised the binding affinity of 5 aptamers selected against the COVID-19 S1 spike protein and shown selectivity of 2 of these between the spike protein from COVID, MERS and SARS.
Start Year 2018
Description National academic collaboration: University of Leeds 
Organisation University of Leeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Facilities funded through this Equipment grant have supported new collaborative activity on the development on molecular computation. Specifically, we have employe the 3D printing facilities to construct a bespoke fluid cell for housing molecularly-funcitonalised electronic devices and employed PM-IRRAS to characterise the immobilised molecular machines.
Collaborator Contribution Academic partner has provided access to confocal microscopy to characterise surface immobilised molecular machines at the single molecule level
Impact A proposal is currently under development and due for submission to the EPSRC in 2019.
Start Year 2018
Description Sensor 100: Innovation in Environmental Monitoring talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 21 September 2016, Sensor 100:Innovation in Environmental Monitoring, University of York, UK
"Combining spot and composite sampling approaches to understand pharmaceutical exposure in freshwater environments", Emily Burns (oral presentation).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Talk at Response to Emergency Incidents Meeting No. 22, FERA, Sand Hutton, 9th November 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact 'State-of-the-art mass spectrometry in analysing emerging pharmaceutical contaminants' - invited talk to the Water Companies & Other Key Laboratories (Mutual Aid) Response to Emergency Incidents Meeting No. 22 FERA, Sand Hutton, 9th November 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016