Local Tracking of Single Ions Dynamics at Solid-Liquid Interfaces

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

Ions are ubiquitous in nature. They play a crucial role in countless processes, from the function of proteins rendering life possible on earth to the formation of minerals and the regulation of the ocean's acidity. In technology, ions are even more important both as structural elements for composite materials and as charge carriers in energy conversion and storage. Whether in living organisms or in cutting edge batteries, ions occupy a central role in transporting, converting and storing energy. This process usually hinges of charge exchanges that occur at the interface between a solid surface and a liquid in which the ions are dissolved.
Because of the small size of most ions, exchange and transport processes at solid-liquid interfaces tend to be dominated by structural and chemical features of the solid such as defects; much like a pillar or a puddle disturbing the natural movement of a crowed in a busy underground passage. It is therefore crucial to be able to follow single ions at the interface with immersed solids in order to fully understand ions' dynamics; any averaged measurement smears out the impact of the dominating surface features of the solid.
To date this has not been possible due a lack of experimental technique: most existing approach rely of some form of averaging over many ions in order to derive precise information.
The goal of this fellowship is to develop a novel type of microscope able to probe locally and in-situ the dynamics of single ions at the surface of immersed solids with a simultaneous spatiotemporal resolution exceeding 1 nanometre and 50 nanoseconds. This new microscope will subsequently be used uncover the molecular mechanisms enabling certain ions to migrate efficiently through composite materials while preventing others.
It will also be used to investigate the dynamics of single ions at model biointerfaces and answer otherwise inaccessible questions for biological systems. It will also be
Significantly, this experimental platform will open up the possibility to directly compare experimental results with computer simulations conducted on the same spatial and temporal scales.

Planned Impact

The research conducted during this fellowship is expected to benefit different groups of people and potential end-users across academia, industry and the broader public:

1. Academia
The main group of short-term beneficiaries is foreseen to be academic researchers working at the cutting edge of fundamental science and technology. The unique and novel insights offered by the equipment developed during this fellowship would (i) significantly enhance the capabilities of many existing research fields and projects where ions and charged molecules at solid-liquid interfaces play an important role and (ii) enable novel research previously not possible for lack of suitable experimental techniques. This group of beneficiaries is likely to come from very diverse scientific backgrounds and may not have any expertise with scanning probe microscopy, but would be driven by specific research questions that would benefit from the new experimental insights. As non-expert end-users, it is expected that they will exploit the new technology through collaborations with expert users and, in the longer-run, direct use from commercial providers.
Aside from end-users, the research developments conducted during the fellowship may benefit academics in of scanning probe microscopy by driving the field forward. The research is also likely to benefit the field of computer simulations by opening up a new avenue for developing simulations that fully match experiments both spatially and temporally. While already possible, such simulations are rare and challenging at the present time.

2. Industry
In the short term, potential industrial end-users may benefit from the technology being developed during the fellowship and operate likely through collaborations with academics and specialised labs in order to address scientific questions pertinent to specific industrial processes and developments. In the longer term, industrial users may choose to develop the expertise to use the equipment themselves.
In parallel and on the mid-term, industry operating in the field of scanning probe microscopy may choose to enhance the prototype microscope in order to render it more user-friendly and commercialise it. This would offer the most effective route for achieving a broad impact on potential users and could be achieved through an existing collaboration with the Fellow's research laboratory.

3. Development of the UK research capabilities
As part of the fellowship's research, two postdoctoral research associate and one PhD student will be trained across the fields of high-resolution atomic force microscopy, electrochemistry, optics and computer simulations. These skills are in high demand in the UK, both in academia and in industry. Highly qualified young researchers combining several of these skills would be a great asset to the UK research capabilities and benefit the country in the long term.

4. Broder public through science outreach
The fellowship offers a unique opportunity to reach out to the broad public given the interdisciplinary and applied nature of its research. Through public lecture (Saturday Lectures Series) and events (Celebrate Science) and the developed of a simplified/macroscopic model of atomic force microscope, outreach activities will target the broader public in order to engage with non-specialist and raise the public's interest for the different research disciplines involved in the project.

Publications

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Cafolla C (2021) Real-time tracking of ionic nano-domains under shear flow. in Scientific reports

 
Description The aim of this project is to develop a novel approach to track the dynamics of single ions and molecules in response to RF electric fields in solution. This it to be achieved using a scanning probe approach where a nanoscale tip is used to mechanically probe and electrically stimulate a sample. We discovered a strategy to simultaneously run high-resolution topographical and electrical measurements on a same sample with minimum cross-talk. This improves the spatial resolution of existing approaches by an order of magnitude. Other novel phenomena have been discovered as a result of this new strategy but are currently under investigation.
Exploitation Route The methodology and strategy used by this project is simpler than initially anticipated and could be put to use by other research groups worldwide with relatively modest (<£30k) investments. The results of this new strategy, while exciting, still require significant work to ensure a full understanding and correct interpretation.
Sectors Electronics,Energy,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description An affordable platform for early detection and routine monitoring of diseases via extracellular vesicle (EV) tracking. - Moving EV diagnostic tests from the exotic to the everyday.
Amount £49,797 (GBP)
Organisation Durham University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2022 
End 08/2022
 
Description Computing support and development 
Organisation Aalto University
Country Finland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Provision of experimental data to serve as support for computer simulations
Collaborator Contribution Support, advice and training to help develop in-house computing capabilities for modelling the experimental results
Impact Physical chemistry and interfaces at the nanoscale
Start Year 2021
 
Description Development of bespoke equipment 
Organisation Oxford Instruments Asylum Research
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Development of a novel key piece of equipment for the project based on a platform sold by the partner
Collaborator Contribution Provision of consultant advice, and help with bringing all the different parts of the new microscope under the command of the Cypher software. Specifically: - Eight (8) hours of technical support per month from our software developers for the duration of the project (60 months with an in-kind value of £60,000) - Advanced technical advice on technical questions for the microscope development
Impact No output as of yet with the project still under development. The collaboration covers engineering aspects of the project
Start Year 2020
 
Description MMC online meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Annual microscopy meeting of the Royal Microscopy Society. It was a particularly well-run event with many (200+) online attendants. I chaired a discussion panel on one of the emerging topics in the field
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description MRS meeting Boston (virtual) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact MRS is a major event in the field taking place every year in Boston. This year is was help virtually with presentations uploaded in advance (invited contribution). The presentations were used as a base to engage a broader conversation with the community and I actively participated (as a panel member) to a discussion about the recent advances and directions in the field
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.mrs.org/meetings-events/fall-meetings-exhibits/2020-mrs-spring-and-fall-meeting
 
Description Online Scientific Presentation - Edinburgh University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Scientific presentation followed by a debate on the topic of water at biological interfaces, in particular for the case of microbes. The discussion followed on the topic of ion dynamics and the implications for interactions with therapeutics. This resulted in an animated discussion with the audience and followed on with a collaboration
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Online Scientific Presentation - Oxford University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Scientific discussion followed by a Q&A aimed at senior undergraduate students and postgraduate students. Discussions followed with ideas for possible collaborations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Organisation of a conference on liquid dyanmics at nanointerfaces for academics and industrialists 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Organization and chairing of a 2-day conference on liquid dynamics at interfaces with industrial attendance in the context of lubrication. Many discussions, debate and sharing of ideas followed
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description RMS focussed workshop on data analysis 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I chaired and animated a session during a workshop aimed at bringing the scientific community together to share their software resources and code in order to improve cooperation and efficiency
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Royal Microscopy SPM meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Annual UK microscopy meeting held online this year. The presentation triggered multiple questions and discussions afterwards
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020