The Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory (NPRL) was established in Birmingham in 1994 and was the first centre for nanoscience to be established in the UK. The broad aim was "to advance the frontiers of the physics, chemistry and technology of nanometre-scale structures, devices and processes". Over ten years the group has developed a toolbox of new techniques to characterise 1-10 nanometer structures. A typical output from this toolbox is an image, making explicit the structural as well as the physical properties of the material under study. 

The characterisation techniques include the Scanning Probe Energy Loss Spectrometer (SPELS), combining the imaging capabilities of Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (STM) with spectroscopic analysis provided by Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy (EELS) in reflection mode, to create a useful tool for local spectroscopic surface analysis. In addition, a range of electron microscopes (STM, AFM, TEM and STEM) are applied to atomic resolution imaging and manipulation, liquid phase single protein imaging, and 2D and 3D structural visualisations.

The fundamental studies of the properties of nano-clusters forge the way to the development of new imaging tools and applications. For instance, the planned "time-resolved" (laser-coupled) STM will enable the study of temporal dynamics on the 1-10nm structures of nanoscale systems. 

Some of the exciting developments are at the interface to molecular biology. The size of protein molecules typically lies in the range 3-20nm. Liquid phase Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) imaging and near field optical fluorescence measurements will be combined to characterise the morphology and functionality of quaternary-scale protein complexes as relevant to cell signalling and the immune system. This aspect of proteomics is the regime of molecular biology on which we have chosen to concentrate, and it is almost intractable by X-ray diffraction measurements. The main experimental progress needed in this area is to develop the near-field optics; specifically, we propose to build an external-field coupled, scanning near-field optical microscope with 100 fsec time resolution for liquid phase measurements.

Liquid phase AFM (Atomic Force Microscope) image showing biological molecules (Gro-EL proteins) physisorbed on a Mica substrate


Professor Richard Palmer
Tel: 0121 414 4653


Dr Yu Chen
Tel: 0121 414 6095

The Nanoscale Physics Research Laboratory (NPRL) is in the School of Physics and Astronomy