ERC Starting Grants for two 3mE projects
Sabina Caneva and Richard Norte, researchers of the department of Precision and Microsystems Engineering, have been awarded an ERC Starting Grant by the European Research Council. Richard Norte’s research on new types of sail materials for interstellar travel will open the way to a whole new field of nano-technology, while Sabina Caneva’s research focuses on the development of an ultrasensitive nanoscale protein scanner, a fundamental step towards next-generation molecular diagnostics.
Extreme Aspect Ration nano-Systems (EARS)
We’re aiming to make ultra-thin, reflective sails that can be pushed with laser light to about one-fifth the speed of light. Such sails could allow us to send satellites that reach the closest star outside our solar system in just 20 years – as opposed to 10,000 years.
One way to send low-mass space probes over distances of billions of kilometres is to use sails made of extremely lightweight and highly reflective materials. A major challenge to designing these sails is that they must be ‘macro-scale’ in the length and width – say 4 x 4 m2 – but have ‘nano-scale’ thickness, around one-thousandth of the thickness of a human hair. This extreme-aspect-ratio nanotechnology is fundamentally different from any conventional nanotechnology developed over the last half century. Such materials would allow very small space probes in the form of microchips with integrated cameras, sensors and communication systems to be propelled over vast distances using powerful Earth-based lasers. This sort of challenge requires a “new type of nano-technology” and Norte’s project will rethink how we design, manufacture and manipulate objects with such extreme geometries. Awarded an exceptional 2.1 million euros Starting Grant, Norte’s EARS project aims to make new types of lightweight sail materials and then use lasers to levitate them while carrying objects that are 100,000 times more massive than anything levitated with coherent light to date. These sail materials will offer unexplored avenues to study gravity, materials science and light-matter interactions.
Single-Molecule Acousto-Photonic Nanofluidics (SIMPHONICS)
“Our ability to decode the sequence of biomolecules, such as DNA and proteins, is not only foundational for biology but also a cornerstone for next-generation molecular diagnostics”
Reading bio-molecular signatures and understanding their role in health and disease is one of the greatest scientific challenges in genome and proteome biology. Yet complete analysis of the sequence of individual proteins expressed at the cellular level is still beyond our current technology, as are next-generation techniques that can precisely manipulate these nanoscale compounds. The goal of Caneva’s SIMPHONICS project is to develop a high-resolution, high-throughput platform combining solid-state nanopore transport measurements, spatially modulated acoustic wavefields and single-molecule fluorescence time-traces to confine, scan and fingerprint proteins non-invasively and on a massively parallel scale.
Specifically, SIMPHONICS will begin a new research line at 3mE that uniquely applies principles and concepts from nanopore biophysics, nanophotonics and acoustofluidics with the potential to reveal the molecular-level details of fundamental biological processes in realistic, yet technically-challenging physiological contexts.