Bart Hoogenboom is a Reader at the Department of Physics and Astronomy (UCL) and the London Centre for Nanotechnology, where he is also lead scientist for its atomic force microscopy facilities. He was initially trained as a solid-state physicist, working on correlated-electron systems and scanning probe microscopy. Since his PhD, he has gradually shifted his focus to nanoscale biological structures and processes, and currently leads a nanoscale biophysics research group.
Nanotechnological tools enable us to study and manipulate single atoms and molecules. There is a particular interest in exploiting these tools to investigate the molecular machines that make the biological cell function in a way similar to a macroscopic factory and yet - because of their nanometre-scale size and the presence of an aqueous environment - so different.
Our research has a strong focus on scanning probe techniques. Of all scanning probe microscopes, the atomic force microscope (AFM) is the most popular for biological applications. Using an extremely sharp tip, it allows users to scan a surface just like a person's fingertip reading Braille, “touching” and “feeling” single molecules and/ or atoms. Moreover, since the AFM can be operated in liquid, we can probe and image biomolecules under conditions that are very near to those in a living cell.
Precise control of the AFM cantilever, our miniature "fingertip", is crucial to gently probe molecules without damaging or distorting them. In our laboratory, we develop new techniques to get complete control of the cantilever in aqueous environment, with the aim of probing and imaging biologically relevant samples with sub-molecular or even atomic resolution. We apply these techniques to a variety of samples, preferably to molecules of biomedical relevance.