Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry imaging for advanced chemical and materials analysis

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Chemistry


Mass spectrometry is an essential tool for molecular structural determination which underpins breakthroughs in Engineering, Physical Sciences and Life Sciences. In Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption-Ionisation (MALDI) mass spectrometry, samples are analysed in the form of a solid, and surface chemical imaging is possible as part of a growing field in mass spectrometry imaging. Chemical imaging using mass spectrometry fill a critical gap in the materials characterisation toolbox, complementing physical imaging tools e.g. electron microscopy. Unravelling the chemistry of the surface of materials and devices is critical in understanding their interaction with their environment and improving their performance. The facility will provide exquisite detail on chemical structures, together with micrometre precision in spatial distribution.

The equipment will support research activities in Engineering & Physical Sciences and Life Sciences, encompassing both industrially relevant projects and blue-sky research. A strategic focus will be on Industrial Biotechnology and Advanced Materials, where analytical tools to characterise large molecules and complex systems are urgently needed in supporting the developing bioeconomy and novel healthcare technologies. Examples include enhanced production of new biopharmaceuticals or biodegradable polymers and wearable technology for medical diagnostics.

Our aim is to establish a multi-user analytical facility providing mass spectrometric chemical analysis and imaging. This will be managed, through proven mechanisms and support infrastructure, to maximise institutional, regional and national impact through collaborative research and major national academic-industrial networks.

Planned Impact

The EPSRC Review of Analytical Sciences (May 2015) acknowledges its 'vastly interdisciplinary' nature, 'affecting science, society and the economy'. The facility will support an exceptional cross-disciplinary research portfolio from advanced materials to industrial biotechnology, including industrially funded programmes and consortia. In many of these high-impact studies, access to appropriate characterisation tools represents a significant bottleneck. In others the facility will bring new opportunities for additional impact trough increased quality of information and increased sample throughput.

Economy - Improved characterisation tools accelerate scientific discovery and engineering methods contributing to the UK's knowledge-based economy and improving productivity. Current production and processing of materials accounts for 15% of UK GDP. The facility will accelerate the development of innovative advanced materials by providing new chemical detail on manufacturing processes and material performance. Large scale manufacturing of advanced materials is one of the 'eight great technologies' highlighted by the UK Govt. that should be pursued to drive economic growth. For example, organic electronic technology can potentially replace inorganic conventional semiconductors in simple, high volume devices. The worldwide biomedical materials market is projected to grow to USD 149 Bn by 2021. The facility will support a largescale biomaterials engineering research activity into cost-effective healthcare interventions co-ordinated through the Royce Institute for Advanced Materials. Through the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology, the facility will underpin the University's research beacon in Industrial Biotechnology, contributing to the UK bioeconomy, a sector worth ~£200 Bn globally. Biomanufacturing routes are well suited to produce novel therapeutics and enable the production of chemicals and materials to be largely decoupled from oil price fluctuations through the utilisation of diverse sustainable feedstock streams, giving manufacturers economic stability. The activity supported by the proposal will provide highly trained analytical scientists to industry.

Society - The diverse science and engineering research supported by the facility will impact on society principally through breakthroughs in (bio)manufacturing and healthcare technologies which will improve quality of life and help address environmental challenges. The emergent bioeconomy promises to reverse the impact on climate change, health and the environment imposed by the excessive energy and resource demands of a petrochemical-dependent manufacturing base. The facility will contribute new analytical capability to the EPSRC Future Biomanufacturing Research Hub, developing an innovative greener manufacturing pipeline which is at the core of the UK's Clean Growth strategy, freeing society from many of the shortcomings of current manufacturing practices. The proposal will capitalise on our world-leading expertise and research infrastructure on graphene and 2D materials available at the UoM to develop future therapies and innovative healthcare technology platforms. Examples include wound-healing and wearable healthcare technology to address challenges associated with an aging society, and new biodegradable plastics to benefit the environment.

Knowledge - The facility established through this proposal will transform our ability to determine the chemical composition and distribution of a wide range of materials and devices. By extending the chemical sensitivity and specificity of our measurements it will contribute to new understanding in areas as diverse as innovative organic electronics and disease diagnostics.

People - The proposal will fund an open-access facility, enabling UK academic and industrial users to gain analytical skills, broaden their research network and further develop their careers.


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Description Methods for bioengineering NRPS/PKS assembly lines delivering peptide natural products with electrophilic warheads.
Amount £470,912 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/V016083/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2022 
End 08/2025
Description Collaboration with PHOSP 
Organisation University of Leicester
Department Leicester Medical School
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have obtained samples from 760 participants in the P-HOSP study. We have performed multiomics investigations on serum from these participants. We have performed metabolomics in two labs, (Manchester untargeted and Surrey semi targeted) untargeted proteomics in two labs (Manchester and Liverpool) and lipidomics in Manchester.
Collaborator Contribution They have collected samples and the clinical data. All is stored in the P-HOSP TRE.
Impact Pending
Start Year 2021
Description Syngenta CASE Studentship 
Organisation Syngenta International AG
Department Syngenta Ltd (Bracknell)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution Provision of expertise and facilities for mass sectrometry imaging.
Collaborator Contribution Provision of expertise in plant science and provision of technical materials, formulated agrochemical products and complementary analytical methods.
Impact Multidisciplinary: analytical chemistry; plant science; biotechnology; instrumentation
Start Year 2021
Description Inaugural Lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Public lecture to celebrate Professorship
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021