Celebrating five years of big nano-achievements

Prof. Malcolm Grant, Provost of UCL and Prof. Sir Adrian Smith, BIS

27th September 2011

Researchers were celebrating the work of the London Centre for Nanotechnology (LCN) today at a seminar held in honour of the fifth anniversary of its opening.

The centre brings together scientists from UCL and Imperial College London to probe the natural world, and develop new technologies, at scales measured in billionths of a metre. The researchers are particularly focused on using nanotechnology to improve healthcare, information technology, energy and the environment.

At the event on 27 September 2011, a line-up of VIPs from academia, government, and industry praised the Centre's ongoing success in a variety of disciplines. Researchers from the Centre have discovered magnetic analogues of electrical charge, found new ways to manipulate light using nanoparticles, and developed new ways to screen for antibiotic resistance in bacteria. They hope to build on these and other successes with commercial products in the coming years. They have won significant investment for their work from research councils and private sources.

"I am delighted to celebrate how far we have come in the last five years. We are looking forward to more world-class science and innovation from the LCN, and will continue to strive to make a difference to people's lives with nanotechnology through improved healthcare, new information technologies and nano solutions for care of the planet" said Professor Gabriel Aeppli, Quain Professor of Physics and co-director of the London Centre for Nanotechnology.

"Over the last five years, it has become ever clearer that nanoscience can make a major contribution to solving environmental, medical and technological challenges and we believe that the LCN is exceptionally well positioned to lead this work in the future." said Milo Shaffer, Professor of Materials Chemistry and co-director of Imperial's side of the Centre.

UCL and Imperial have worked together in the Centre to harness expertise across medicine, chemistry, physics, electrical and electronic engineering, materials and earth sciences.

Speaking at the event on Tuesday, Imperial College London's Rector Professor Sir Keith O'Nions, said: "Collaboration and interdisciplinary working are firmly embedded within Imperial's DNA. But the links between UCL and Imperial that support LCN take such collaboration to a whole new level, with a dedicated building at UCL, and new hi-tech equipment here at Imperial.

"The potential of any new area of research is heavily reliant on its ability to generate new applications that lead to tangible improvements in our lives. The LCN's impressive output has made a significant contribution to helping people see beyond the headlines of grey goo, and start to understand what this exciting area of research is capable of delivering."Guests at the LCN's 5th Anniversary Celebrations

Professor Malcolm Grant, Provost and President of UCL, said at the event: "The London Centre for Nanotechnology is a marvellous way of celebrating the collaboration that has occurred over the last five years between these two great universities. I've been struck by the sheer excitement about the science, the interconnectedness of the research and its potential to empower the development of new advances."

The work of the Centre was also praised by Professor Sir Adrian Smith, Director General of Knowledge and Innovation and the UK Government's Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and Dr Lesley Thompson, Director of Research Base at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) who spoke the event.

The LCN has tackled a wide range of challenges, from the design nano-plasmonic structures for sub-wavelength optical detection, to the development of portable HIV-sensors. A few further examples are outlined below.

The UK's first TITAN microscope

The LCN is home to the UK's first FEI Titan 300-80 S/TEM microscope, which was funded by the EPSRC.

This instrument is used to support LCN research in a variety of areas including:
• the study of the nanoscale changes in human bones which lead to osteoporosis
• the investigation of the link between iron nanoparticles in the brain and degenerative diseases like Parkinson's
• the development of nanostructured semiconductor materials for low-cost, high-performance optical communications system components.

The microscope's remarkable capabilities mean that researchers are able to 'see' the detail of atoms' local environment close to interfaces, structures, boundaries and defects in a wide range of materials. This ability has lead to a greater understanding of the chemical, biological, structural, electronic or magnetic properties in a number of materials and structures.


Using nanotechnology to power the cars of the future

The LCN is contributing to a project that means that parts of a car's bodywork could one day double up as its battery. An interdisciplinary team, involving chemists and engineers, has developed a new composite material that can both store electrical energy and offer sufficient mechanical performance to be used for car parts. As part of a major European project, coordinated by Imperial's Dr Emile Greenhalgh, the team are working together with Volvo Car Corporation and other partners to build a large scale prototype, Ultimately, they expect that this technology could be used in hybrid petrol/electric vehicles to make them lighter, more compact and more energy efficient, enabling drivers to travel for longer distances before needing to recharge their cars.

In addition, the researchers believe the material, which has been patented by Imperial, could potentially be used for the casings of many everyday objects such as mobile phones and computers, so that they would not need a separate battery. The goal is to make such devices smaller, more lightweight and more portable.

Nanoscience helping to diagnose HIV

London Centre for Nanotechnology scientists at UCL and Imperial are helping to develop a technology that will assist in improving early detection rates for HIV/AIDS, a disease that claims more than two million lives a year.

Led by Dr Rachel McKendry at UCL, the researchers are working to develop a portable, multi-functional, real-time device that is capable of detecting the virus from a single drop of blood. As the team drives the costs down, the device could prove to be a life-saver, particularly to those living in poor, remote regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.

In their novel technique, an arrangement of nanopillars acts as a sieve to separate and concentrate the markers of infection, such as CD4 T-cells and intact HIV viruses. The weight of the markers causes an array of micro-cantilevers to bend and trigger the detector.