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Weighing single molecules with light

PI: Philipp Kukura

Department: Chemistry

Over the past ten years Prof Kukura’s group has been developing and optimising label-free optical microscopy (i.e. microscopy which does not require molecules to be tagged with fluorescent labels) with ever increasing levels of sensitivity. A recent, IP-protected, experimental breakthrough enabled the group to determine the molecular weight of single biomolecules in solution with an accuracy comparable to gas phase mass spectrometry. The resulting instrument possesses unique capabilities, such as: (i) operation in native, solution conditions; (ii) low sample volume requirements; and (iii) a broad and uniquely low analyte concentration range, while being simpler and much more cost efficient than traditional mass spectrometry.

Prof Kukura aims to demonstrate the commercial potential of interferometric scattering microscopy for mass spectrometry of single molecules in solution. The IAA award will be used to produce a near-market ready prototype and implement the required software modifications expected of a commercial device, to demonstrate that the technology is sufficiently robust to warrant venture capital funding for  a potential spin-out company.