"Meta-chemistry": Nanoscale chemical control using spatially localised solvent heating

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Chemistry


The industrial mass production of machines and devices relies on the assembly of different components in a specific order in the most rapid and efficient way. However what is routine at everyday length scales is infinitely more difficult and time consuming when we consider linking components to create nano-devices. This is particularly the case when one wishes to create a specific molecule-nanostructure construct. The individual component molecules and complex nanostructure architectures can be mass produced using tools of synthetic chemistry and nanofabrication techniques (e.g. nano-imprint and injection moulding). However, established technologies for combining these individual elements in a specific way are slow (e.g. dip pen nanolithography takes tens of hours to functionalise cm2 samples) and hence low throughput (i.e. incompatible with mass production). Therfore, creating relative complex hybrid molecular-nanofabricated materials is comparable to handcrafting a Bentley rather than the assembly line mass production of Volkswagen Golfs. We propose an innovative approach for nanoscale spatial control of chemical functionalisation of (plasmonic) nanostructures which has both nanoscale resolution ca. 20 nm and is simple and rapid. The concept, which we call "Meta-chemistry", involves using a pulsed laser to locally heat the solvent in specific regions surrounding a nanostructure. These nanoscale thermal gradients can then be exploited to drive chemistry in a spatially selective manner. In the proposal we will develop a fundamental understanding of how heat is generated and transported in a liquid surrounding a nanostructure, thus providing the foundation for optimal spatial control. Also crucially, we will synthesise thermally responsive polymers which will be transformed in the locally heated solvent, creating nano-domains which can be subsequently chemically functionalised. Using the meta-chemistry concept cm2 of a nanostructured substrate can be both spatially and selectively chemically modified, in preparation for subsequent chemical functionalisation, in less than 60 seconds. The proposal is at the cusp of chemistry physics and engineering, it will discover novel fundamental science which in the longer term could be the foundation of a powerful flexible technology for the nanoscience toolbox.

Planned Impact

The impact of the proposed research will focus on four main areas: economy, knowledge, people, and society

The "technologization" of our fundamental science will focus on research users, quality assurance for biotechnology companies and diagnostics, from the food industry to medical healthcare. Researchers are pushing towards label free detection as this reduces any adverse label specific effects on the interaction between a target and an analyte being measured. The label-free detection market has a forecasted value of $1.7 billion by 2018. Our long term aim is to provide a technical platform for clinical assays and hit to lead assays for medical and drug discovery industries. Medical diagnostics depend largely on ELISA assays, where key vendors such as ABCAM and Thermo Fisher Scientific have market capitalisation of £1,160 M and $55,777 M respectively. Drug discovery as a global industry is easily recognizable as a profitable market. However it would be presumptuous to assume we would enter these highly competitive markets at first instance, replacing a tried and tested methodology with our nascent technology. Therefore our immediate aim would be to provide quality assurance tests to the biotech companies (market value >$300 billion), research tools for biologists and disease detecting assays to the food industry with an aim to achieve profitable returns in 5 years through these applications. We can consider optical biosensing companies such as LambdaGen, BioRad (Market Cap. of $4,118 M), BiaCore and BioNavis as our closest competitors.

The knowledge generated by the proposed work will be communicated through standard routes: papers, conferences, etc. The applicants have a good track record of getting results published in high impact factor journals such as Nature, Nature Nano, Advanced Materials, Chem Comm, Nano Lett, Angewandte, and JACS. The pioneering work of the applicants on superchiral fields in (Nature Nano 5, 783 (2010), 257 cits.) has been cited 20 times in the first 12 months since publication placing it comfortably in the top 1% of all papers in chemistry (according to Thomson Reuters Science Watch). The publication record of the applicants is strong and is expected to continue in this manner with targeting of the top tier journals such with the collaborative work proposed here. The PI (MK) will also communicate results through invitation to speak at international meeting and departmental seminars. In the last 6 years MK has been invited to speak at 13 UK and international Physics and Chemistry departments and has received a further 19 invitations as a keynote or plenary lecturer at international conferences.

The research proposal under consideration here is people centred and career development of the team members a key aim. Career development of the PDRAs will be supported by the University of Glasgow's Researcher Development Framework ensuring PDRAs can access training in a broad range of skills, from research integrity, project management and leadership to collaboration, cross-cultural working, and research impact. PDRAs will be provided with training in public engagement, entrepreneurship, bespoke mentoring, and are encouraged to partake in the Scottish Crucible leadership programme.

It will be attempted to communicate a flavour of the research enterprise and its results to the public. As outlined in the case for support we are seeking funds for a demonstration / exhibit which can be shown at science festivals around the country. The school of chemistry also carries out a range of outreach activities, such as the Slaters Chemistry Day, which this demonstration can be shown. We also plan to exhibit the demonstration at the Glasgow Science Centre, with which the investigators have established links.


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Gilroy C (2020) Active Chiral Plasmonics: Flexoelectric Control of Nanoscale Chirality in Advanced Photonics Research