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Research interests

My main research interest is to develop tools to investigate nanoscale phenomena. I have developed a dedicated scanning probe microscope to measure sub-picoNewton forces parallel to a flat surface. The name of this technique is the lateral molecular force microscope (LMFM). The sensors used in a LMFM can have stiffness a thousand times smaller than the ones used in conventional atomic force microscopy and measure femto-Newton forces. The first application of LMFM has been the measurement of weak optical forces generated by evanescent fields. We also used these extra compliant micro-cantilevers to observe the processivity of biomolecular motor proteins.
We recently developed an evanescent field sensor to detect intracellular fluctuations within bacterial cells (SCFI). We discovered that these fluctuations can be related very precisely to the metabolic state of the bacteria when exposed to antibiotics. Using this technique, we have developed a protocol to perform rapid antimicrobial susceptibility tests that could become a tool against the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

At the present the LMFM is used in 5 main areas of research:

1) To study the dynamic properties of confined liquid films under shear. This technique will allow detecting the organization of confined molecules with unprecedented nanometer spatial resolution. Interesting questions related to the interaction between adsorbed biomolecules and the surrounding liquid environment will also be accessible. [Shear Response of Nanoconfined Water on Muscovite Mica: Role of Cations, Ulcinas, A., et al. Jan 2011 In : Langmuir. 27, 17, p. 10351 - 10355]

2) To improve our understanding of the different mechanisms regulating the activity of bio-molecular motors. This is achieved by increasing our time resolution of the motor's mechanical cycle and, in the future, by combining single molecule fluorescence to investigate the chemical cycle as well. [Processive behaviour of kinesin observed using micro-fabricated cantilevers Sholtz, T, et al. Jan 2011 In : Nanotechnology. 22, p. 095707 - 095713]

3) To observe the molecular level of the infection processes in bacteria. The LMFM sensor is used in this case to apply sub-picoNewton forces to the surface of the bacterium and observe its response under varying conditions. (e.g. by introducing specific receptors). This technique can be extended to the study of viruses and other synthetic nanostructures. [Correlation of in situ mechanosensitive responses of the Moraxella catarrhalis adhesin UspA1 with fibronectin and receptor CEACAM1 binding, Agnew, C., et al. Sep 2011 In : Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108, 37, p. 15174 - 15178]

4) To produce high-resolution images of nanostructures in a liquid environment. With the LMFM, we are able to produce non-contact images of very soft samples such as DNA molecules, mucin, microtubules and other synthetic nanostructures. [Self-assembling cages from coiled-coil peptide modules, Fletcher, J. M., et al. 3 May 2013 In : Science. 340, 6132, p. 595-599]

5) To study light-matter interactions, with particular emphasis on structured light fields.[Direct measurements of the extraordinary optical momentum and transverse spin-dependent force using a nano-cantilever, Antognozzi, M., et al., 25 April 2016, In: Nature Physics, doi:10.1038/nphys3732]

The development of this research program will benefit from advances in other areas of nanotechnology, in particular: hybrid micro-electronics, photonics, and plasmonics. Using these new methodologies we will be able to mass-produce cantilevers with multifunctional capabilities. This new technology will allow the characterization of a variety of physical properties at the single molecule level and will be applied to new and old systems addressing completely new questions. 

The SCFI method is used in to main areas of research:

1) Developing a rapid antimicrobial suceptibiltiy test to combat antimicrobial resistance [in publication]

2) Developing a test for cancer cells responcee to chemotherapeutic drugs. [manuscript in preparation]

External positions

CSO of Vitamica ltd

20 Sept 2018 → …


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