Optofluidic microreactors for exploration of novel enzyme mimics

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology

Abstract

Natural enzymes are exceptionally well-suited to aid the manufacturing of high value products. However, their applications have been limited to few types of enzymes and only a handful of chemical processes they catalyse. Among the general limitations of the enzyme design, one significant limitation is the exploration and validation of the enzyme activity. The use of flavin-based enzymes has been explored to inspire the design of new types of hybrid photocatalysts useful for manufacturing processes, in particular synthesis of novel dyes and pharmaceutical compounds. The study of photocatalytic systems is also of great interest in the field of renewable fuel sources. Solar energy can be converted to chemical fuels through artificial photosynthesis systems, in which photosensitizers play a key role. Commonly used photosensitizers include molecular dyes, TiO2 nanoparticles and semiconductors such as CdSe and CdS. However, dyes are often expensive and difficult to prepare, TiO2 nanoparticles have poor aqueous dispersibility and Cd based systems are toxic and suffer from low elemental abundance[8]. This has led to the emergence of carbon-nanodots (CND) as attractive photosensitizer alternatives. They are low-cost, non-toxic, simple to chemically modify, water soluble and stable.

This project will aim to overcome one of the main barriers to advancing the fields of enzyme-mimetic photocatalysts and carbon nanodot (CND) photosensitizers: the lack of quantitative in-situ analysis methods for small reaction volumes. The use of optofluidic microreactors will allow rapid screening of various photocatalytic reactions, acting to develop a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms involved. Hollow-core photonic crystal fibres (HC-PCF) will be immobilised with either flavin catalysts or CND through various different immobilisation strategies to create novel photocatalytic microreactors. These microreactors will be used for ultrasensitive spectroscopy within small reaction volumes, including methodologies such as UV-vis, Raman and fluorescent spectroscopy. This will allow robust characterisation of photocatalytic reaction dynamics, steady-state reaction conditions and identification of reaction intermediates and products. Advancing the state of the art will have huge implications for green catalysis, sustainable manufacturing and green solar fuel production. By creating an optical fibre microreactor to study light-driven catalysis, this project closely aligns with the catalysis, analytical science and sensors and instrumentation EPSRC research areas.

Publications

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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023046/1 30/09/2019 30/03/2028
2394385 Studentship EP/S023046/1 30/09/2020 29/09/2024 Matthew Gary Ellis