Nanoengineering and surface chemistry

The research in our group lies in the interdisciplinary area of nanoscale science. We combine and apply tools and concepts from nanochemistry, supramolecular chemistry, biochemistry and micro- and nanolithography to create sophisticated model substrates for studies of cell behavior and bio- and nanomaterials with applications in medical imaging and catalysis.

Currently, our efforts are focused on three major areas:

Switchable Biological SurfacesSwitchable-Biological-Surfaces

The development of surfaces that have switchable properties, also known as smart surfaces, have been actively pursued in the past few years. The recent surge of interest in these switchable systems stems from the widespread number of applications to many areas in science and technology ranging from environmental cleanup to data storage, micro- and nanofluidic devices.

Moreover, the ability to modulate biomolecule activity, protein immobilisation, and cell adhesion, at the liquid-solid interface is important in a variety of biological and medical applications, including biofouling, chromatography, cell culture, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering.

Our group is developing to novel stimuli-responsive surfaces for real-time, reversible controlling of activity of biomolecules with different biological functions, size and structure on macroscopic surfaces.

The goal is to precisely control the physical, chemical and, in particular, the biological properties of the surfaces from the molecular level and be able to change or tune in a well-defined and predictable manner such properties by using an external stimulus.

Artificial Bacterial Biofilms

Bacterial biofilms are of great practical importance for beneficial technologies such as wastewater treatment and bioremediation. In other settings, biofilms can cause severe problems. For instance, they are responsible for biofouling and for chronic infections of the human body which are particularly difficult to eradicate because of the increased resistance of biofilm bacteria to antibiotics.

Growth in a biofilm entails a multitude of positive and negative interactions with near neighbours and their signals, metabolites and toxins, which can form concentration gradients as opposed to planktonic growth in a mixed liquid. By understanding the biology behind bacterial biofilm growth, we will be able to devise new and more effective technologies to deal with the current demanding microbial problems in industry and medicine.

We are addressing this problem by controlling – on the single-cell level – the spatial positioning of the different types of interacting bacteria in a biofilm setting and are collaborating closely with the research groups of Dr Jan Kreft and Prof Chris Thomas, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham.

Novel Nano-Electrocatalysts for Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells

Nano-ElectrocatalystsThe use of costly and rare platinum(Pt)-based catalysts for PEMFC electrodes currently presents a significant barrier to the deployment and widespread commercialisation of this technology for automotive and domestic applications.

In addition to their prohibitive cost, the lack of long-term performance of platinum(Pt)-based catalysts has motivated major research efforts in the development of superior alternatives. We are currently using wet-chemical synthesis to develop low-cost, high performance nano-electrocatalysts for PEMFC.

Through our work we hope to make significant progress towards meeting targets for reduced platinum group metal loading (down to 0.04 mg.cm-2 at anodes and 0.15 mg.cm-2 at cathodes, Source: US Dept of Energy) and improved lifespan (>5000 hours intermittent, Source: US Dept of Energy) of PEMFC systems which in turn, are crucial steps towards commercial deployment and viability in the automotive and domestic markets.

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