Multiscale characterization of complex materials using a combination of atomic force microscopy and optical coherence tomography

Lead Research Organisation: Newcastle University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering

Abstract

Newcastle University (NCL) has a history of multidisciplinary collaborations in investigator-led research projects and in largescale, strategic initiatives such as the EPSRC Frontier Award (Oct 2013-June 2019, which involves researchers from four different schools within Newcastle University).
The NCL capital equipment strategies are designed to ensure long-term access to equipment and computing facilities that support our diverse research needs from routine characterisation to state-of-the-art technique development. We recognise that sharing of scientific equipment between Newcastle and widely across the N8 partner universities (eight most research intensive Universities in the North of England) brings multiple benefits, including increased utilisation, greater collaboration, enhanced sustainability and a wider range of facilities available to our researchers.
We have identified the proposed equipment that are required to underpin research in ESPRC priority areas in Materials Characterisation, Functional Materials, Engineering for Life and Health, Engineering Science, Water, Synthetic Biology, Regenerative Medicine, and Nanomedicine. This will benefit multiple research groups across NCL as well as external users both academic and industrial. It supports a portfolio of existing EPSRC grants and brings new capabilities to enable new scientific discoveries. A brief summary of the equipment requested and their functions are as follows:
1). A cutting-edge AFM integrated with microfluidics, allows unprecedented possibilities for exciting applications in single-cell biology and nanoscience, thanks to the precise force control provided by the AFM and the microfluidics capabilities. The capability of high resolution and high accuracy imaging and mechanical measurements supports a range of projects in chemistry and at its interfaces with biology, physics and chemical engineering. It is complemented by the existing state-of-art high resolution surface chemistry analysis techniques available at Newcastle.
2). An optical coherence tomography (OCT) uses infrared light to provide surface profiles and subsurface structures, delivering higher resolution and faster images than ultrasound inspection. When used together with the custom built air-pulse system, OCT also enables characterisation of elastic properties of materials such as biofilms and soft tissues.
Items AFM and OCT together with the existing facilities at Newcastle permit mapping of 3D geometry and mechanical characterisation from sub-nanometer to millimetre scale. This asset enables the study of physical and dynamical properties of soft matter, facilitating investigations of disease progression at subcellular, cellular and tissue levels which will allow formulation of effective diseases diagnosis and treatment strategies. The multiscale quantitative measurement obtained by this asset can also provide datasets needed for constructing predictive models in healthcare and water engineering. As a consequence, it can underpin a range of academic and industry-focussed projects in marine biofilms, biological wastewater treatment, biofilm infections, tissue engineering, cancer research and many other healthcare related applications.
Such multiscale physical and mechanical characterisation capability can be further reinforced by the advanced surface chemistry analysis facilities hosted at Newcastle, which will give rise to world-leading research in materials characterisation. It will enhance the UK as a world leader in a wide range of academic research areas, including engineering, materials, physics, chemistry, biology and medicine.

Planned Impact

The AFM enables high resolution imaging and measurement of nanoscale viscoelastic properties, characterising cell-cell interactions and cell-materials interaction, as well as single cell manipulation and experimentation. The custom designed OCT-air-pulse system would enable rapid imaging of surfaces and structures as well as measurement of viscoelasticity of materials at mesoscale. The combined assets of AFM and OCT enable multiscale surface and mechanical characterisation for a vast catalogue of materials. This will not only add substantial value to our multiscale understanding of biological (from single cell to cell communities) and engineered systems, but will also provide datasets for model calibration and validation for multiscale material and biological modelling. Together, these have the capability to benefit material design and predictive models for disease progression.
Therefore, the assets of AFM and OCT are technologies with potential for high societal and economic impact enveloping a large number of themes, such as 1). Well-being and longevity of society: Cancer diagnostics market is estimated to be $13.1 billion by 2020. AFM is used as mechanical marker for disease progression (e.g. cancer) and tissue injury, as well as monitoring how novel drugs affect cellular structures and mechanics. The cell injection capability also enables early stage testing of novel nano-medicines; 2) Water and environment: waterborne infections are estimated to cost over billions of dollars worldwide. The custom modified OCT will be employed to monitor how dispersion agents like disinfectants affect pathogenic biofilms structures and their mechanics; 3) Energy and Sustainability: Battery materials and biosensors market are worth $11.3 billion and $27.06 billion, respectively. AFM equipped with Kelvin probe can serve as a quality control tool for studying the integrity and reliability of battery materials and bio-sensors (e.g. graphene sensors). 4) Manufacture the Future: AFM's nanolithography (nanoscale or submicroscale 3D printing) enables cost effective prototyping strategy. AFM is capable of detecting manufacturing defects on surfaces; while OCT enables rapid imaging of surface of the manufactured products. Together, AFM and OCT can be used as quality control measures for subcomponents in microsystems and larger scale engineering systems.
Such advances of the proposed AFM are likely to have clear benefits on patient outcomes and for healthcare providers and fits within the strategic priorities of the EPSRC challenge theme on Healthcare Technologies. For example, the mechanical biomarker obtained by AFM can help diseases diagnosis and guide the therapists to choose optimised treatment for given stage of disease. Measurement of mechanics of cells and biofilms is a step towards diagnosing and combating diseases. The advanced surface mapping enables development of novel quality control techniques for present and future materials, thereby moving design, manufacturing and engineering forward.
Impact will also be achieved through the training of doctoral and post-doctoral researchers on the equipment who will take these skills into academia and industry, thereby fostering future leaders in an important technology area. This helps to mitigate the 'graduate drain' that is a particular problem in North East England. The presence of these facilities will also strengthen existing industrial partnerships and enable new ones, further contributing to the strength of the regional economy. The actions taken to facilitate these industrial links are described in the Pathways to Impact section.
 
Description 1) Optical coherent tomography: When using the optical coherent tomography (OCT) to imaging wastewater biofilms in the channel, we have discovered that the reduction of biomass and extracellular polymeric substances away from the inlet. The biofilms grow away from the inlet has also demonstrated the tower-like structures.
2) Atomic force microscope : When using the high resolution atomic force microscope (AFM), we have demonstrated that the hair treatment affect the nanostructures of hair which is correlated to the surface chemistry of the hair.
3) Optical coherent tomography: We have demonstrated that it can be co-registered with customised air-jet system for mechanical characterisations of soft materials.
4) Atomic force microscope : We have demonstrated that it can be adopted for effective cell adhesion measurement.
5) Optical coherent tomography: We have demonstrated that it enables rapid high throughput imaging and mechanical characterisation of marine biofilms, when it is coupled with home-designed air-jet system.
6) developed new capacity for simultaneously measure cell mechanics and adhesion to materials.
7) developed viable approaches to determine the mechanics of a few nm soft layers
Exploitation Route 1) The key findings on biofilm imaging could be potentially taken forward by the academic and industries working in water treatment to improve the water treatment efficiency.
2) The key findings enabled by the AFM can potentially help the industry to improve the hair care products.
3) The key findings on biofilm imaging could be potentially taken forward to understand the biofilm formation for fuel cells.
4) The key findings enabled by the AFM adhesion measurements can potentially better understand the disease progression.
5) We are planning to extend the impact of this project and a patent application is in progress. We also submitted an EPSRC IAA to accelerate the impact of the key findings in this project.
6) We are planning to apply it for individual bacteria.
Sectors Environment,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description Automated in-situ detection and monitoring of marine biofilm erosion and mechanical properties via custom optical coherence tomography
Amount £49,973 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2020 
End 07/2020
 
Description Biofilm Resistant Liquid-like Solid Surfaces in Flow Situations
Amount £935,300 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/V049615/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2022 
End 02/2025
 
Description Chinese Scholarship Council-Newcastle University
Amount £110,000 (GBP)
Organisation Chinese Scholarship Council 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country China
Start 08/2019 
End 08/2023
 
Description Computational tool for marine biofilm management
Amount £49,372 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/R012415/1 03PoC20-015 
Organisation National Biofilms Innovation Centre 
Sector Private
Start 05/2021 
End 11/2021
 
Description DTP 2018-19 Newcastle University
Amount £5,206,772 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R51309X/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 09/2023
 
Description EPSRC DTP
Amount £74,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2019 
End 03/2023
 
Title Automated in-situ biofilm imaging and mechanical characterisation 
Description We developed a uniquely designed automated in-situ testing rig to detect and monitor of marine biofilm erosion and study marine biofilm mechanical properties at meter scale. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This technique enabled the new partnership with International Paint (AkzoNobel). We are in the process of applying the patent. 
 
Description Characterising the microstructure and mechanical properties of myocytes 
Organisation University of Glasgow
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution EPSRC Soft Mech feasibility grant: Characterising the microstructure and mechanical properties of myocytes
Collaborator Contribution provide the cell samples; provide technical advice
Impact None yet. It is multi-disciplinary which involves mechanical engineering, biology and mathematics.
Start Year 2019
 
Description develop a new collaboration with AkzoNobel Ltd 
Organisation AkzoNobel
Department AkzoNobel UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution The air-jet was manufactured and the test results were validated against hydrogels tested by another commercial mechanical testing rig (rheometer). The in-house designed bespoken automated stage has been manufactured and deployed for biofilm imaging and testing. The in-house designed software has been developed to couple air-jet, OCT and automated stage. The new coupled automated bioimaging and biomechanical testing system has been adopted to obtain biofilm microstructure and mechanics for marine biofilms.
Collaborator Contribution AkzoNobel has run the biofilm tests using our uniquely designed testing rig to measure the biofilm in AkzoNobel's flow cell.
Impact This collaboration is a multi-disciplinary which involves mechanical engineering, microbiology, marine science, electrical engineering and biomechanics. This project has led to a BBSRC NBIC grant.
Start Year 2020
 
Description develop a new collaboration with AkzoNobel Ltd 
Organisation AkzoNobel
Department AkzoNobel UK
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We developed the computational modelling.
Collaborator Contribution AkzoNobel provided the data for modelling calibration.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary which involves computing, mechanical engineering, marine microbiology, and biomechanics.
Start Year 2020
 
Description develop collaboration with academic partner (University of Southampton) 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department The National Centre for Advanced Tribology at Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution we develop the computational modelling.
Collaborator Contribution University of Southampton provided technical advice.
Impact This collaboration is multi-disciplinary which involves computing, mechanical engineering, marine microbiology, and biomechanics.
Start Year 2020
 
Description develop new collaboration with industrial partner (AkzoNobel) and academic partner (University of Southampton) 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department The National Centre for Advanced Tribology at Southampton
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The air-jet was manufactured and the test results were validated against hydrogels tested by another commercial mechanical testing rig (rheometer). The in-house designed bespoken automated stage has been manufactured and deployed for biofilm imaging and testing. The in-house designed software has been developed to couple air-jet, OCT and automated stage. The new coupled automated bioimaging and biomechanical testing system has been adopted to obtain biofilm microstructure and mechanics for marine biofilms.
Collaborator Contribution University of Southampton has provided technical advice for marine biofilm measurements.
Impact This is a multi-disciplinary project which involves mechanical engineering, microbiology, electric engineering and biomechanics. This project has led to another BBSRC NBIC POC project.
Start Year 2020
 
Description developed partnership with Freeman hospital 
Organisation Freeman Hospital
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Hospitals 
PI Contribution We have developed partnership which led to 1 EPSRC grant on antibiofilm surface with potential applications for catheters.
Collaborator Contribution We have developed partnership which led to 1 EPSRC grant on antibiofilm surface with potential applications for catheters.
Impact led to 1 EPSRC grant on antibiofilm surface with potential applications for catheters.
Start Year 2020
 
Description developed partnership with the Ohio State University 
Organisation Ohio State University
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We developed partnership for a follow-up EPSRC grant and NBIC grants, as well as joint publications.
Collaborator Contribution We developed partnership for a follow-up EPSRC grant and NBIC grants, as well as joint publications.
Impact It led to 3 NBIC grants, 1 EPSRC grant and 1 joint paper in high impact journal. We also submitted another joint paper which is under review and have several joint papers to be submitted.
Start Year 2019
 
Description presentation at a workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The purpose to give a presentation at the workshop is to raise the awareness of the capacity enabled by this award and foster new collaborations.
As a result, it led to a partnership with University of Glasgow (e.g. Prof. Luo and Prof. Ogden) on an EPSRC softmech feasibility grant. It also leads to a plan to co-organize a workshop in collaboration with University of Glasgow.
It also attracted colleagues (e.g. Dr. Brook and Dr. O'Dea) from University of Nottingham to visit us and discuss the future collaborations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018