Home' Curtin University : Curtin Edge of Tomorrow Contents “We’ve identified lanthanoid clusters
that can emit UV light and have magnetic
properties,” explains Ogden. “Some of
these can form single molecule magnets.
A key outcome will be to link cluster size
and shape to these functional properties.”
This may facilitate guided production of
magnetic and light-emitting materials for
use in sensing and imaging technologies.
THE NRI IS WORKING ACROSS several
areas of chemistry and engineering to
develop nanoscale tools for detecting
and treating health conditions. Professor
Damien Arrigan applies a nanoscale
electrochemical approach to detecting
biological molecules, also known as
biosensing. He and his Department of
Chemistry colleagues work at the precise
junction between layered oil and water.
“We make oil/water interfaces using
membranes with nanopores, some as
small as 15 nanometres,” he says. “This
scale delivers the degree of sensitivity
we’re after.” The scientists measure the
passage of electrical currents across the
tiny interfaces and detect protein, which
absorbs at the boundary between the two
molecules in cells. “We synthesise new
compounds based on heavy metals that
have luminescent properties,” explains
Massi. “Then we feed the compounds
to cells, and look to see where they
accumulate and how they glow.”
The team synthesises libraries
of designer chemicals for their trials.
“We know what properties we’re after
luminescence, biological compatibility
and the ability to go to the part of the
cell we want,” says Massi.
For example, compounds can be
designed to accumulate in lysosomes –
the tiny compartments in a cell that are
involved in functions such as waste
processing. With appropriate illumination,
images of lysosomes can then be
reconstructed and viewed in 3D using
a technique known as confocal
microscopy, enabling scientists to assess
lysosome function. Similar approaches
are in development for disease states
such as obesity and cancer.
Beyond detection, this technique also
has potential for therapeutic applications.
Massi has performed in vitro studies with
healthy and cancerous cells, suggesting
that a switch from detection to treatment
may be possible by varying the amount
of light used to illuminate the cells.
“A bit of light allows you to visualise.
A lot of light will allow you to kill the
cells,” explains Massi. His approach is
liquids. “As long as we know a protein’s
isoelectric point – that is, the pH at which
it carries no electrical charge – we can
measure its concentration,” he explains.
The technique enables the scientists to
detect proteins at nanomolar (10−6 mol/m3)
concentrations, but they hope to shift the
sensitivity to the picomolar (10−9 mol/m3)
range – a level of detection a thousand
times more sensitive and not possible
with many existing protein assessments.
Further refinement may also incorporate
markers to select for proteins of interest.
“What we’d like to do one day is measure
specific proteins in biological fluids like
saliva, tears or serum,” says Arrigan.
The team’s long-term vision is to
develop highly sensitive point-of-need
measurements to guide treatments – for
example, testing kits for paramedics to
detect markers released after a heart
attack so that appropriate treatment
can be immediately applied.
Also in the Department of Chemistry,
Dr Max Massi is developing biosensing
tools to look at the health of living tissues.
His approach relies on tracking the
location and luminescence of constructed
If you understand the chemistry
of gold ... then you might have
a better idea of where to start
looking for the next gold mine.”
MATTERS IN RESEARCH
PROFESSOR JULIAN GALE leads a
world-class research group in computational
materials chemistry at the Nanochemistry
Research Institute (NRI). “We work at the
atomic level, looking at fundamental
processes by which materials form,” he says.
“We can simulate up to a million atoms or
more, and then test how the properties and
behaviour of the atoms change in response
to different experimental conditions.”
Such research is made possible through
accessing a petascale computer at WA’s
Pawsey Centre – built primarily to support
Square Kilometre Array pathfinder research.
The capacity to model the nanoscale
behaviour of atoms is a powerful tool in
nanochemistry research, and can give
direction to experimental work. The calcium
carbonate mineral vaterite is a case in point.
“Our theoretical work on calcium carbonate
led to the proposal that the mineral vaterite
was actually composed of at least three
different forms,” Gale explains. “An
international team found experimental
evidence which supported this idea.”
NRI Director Professor Andrew Lowe
regards this capacity as an asset. “Access
to this kind of atomic modelling means that
our scientists can work within a hypothetical
framework to test whether a new idea is
likely to work or not before they commit
time and money to it,” he explains.
Edge Of Tomorrow
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