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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/P029868/1
Title: 3D OrbiSIMS: Label free chemical imaging of materials, cells and tissues
Principal Investigator: Alexander, Professor MR
Other Investigators:
Gilmore, Professor I Khlobystov, Professor A Wildman, Professor R
Williams, Professor P Corner, Professor J Shakesheff, Professor K
Scurr, Dr D J Alexander, Professor C
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Sch of Pharmacy
Organisation: University of Nottingham
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 August 2017 Ends: 31 July 2022 Value (£): 2,019,330
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Analytical Science
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Manufacturing Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
27 Mar 2017 EPSRC Strategic Equipment Interview March Panel Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
This application is for a time of flight secondary ion mass spectrometer (ToF-SIMS) with unique state-of-the-art 3D imaging capability exhibiting unprecedented mass resolution achieved through the integration of a high specification OrbitrapTM mass spectrometer. Additionally, the instrument is capable of extremely high spatial resolution and is complemented by cryo-preparation facilities which allow the preservation of the native structure of hydrated samples such as biological cells and tissue. The instrument provides a label free molecular characterisation of materials using surface mass spectrometry of liberated secondary ion fragments generated by primary ion impaction from the outermost 1 - 2 nm. When this surface sensitivity is combined with a sputtering beam it produces a 3D chemical analysis of materials at high lateral (< 100 nm) and vertical (~ 3 nm) resolution.

The emerging next generation of real world systems and devices exhibit an increasing complexity in sample type throughout a variety of research areas, such as biomedical implants, drug delivery systems, organic electronics devices and engineering devices. The design and innovation of these devices is underpinned by materials characterisation, however their chemical complexity can be prohibitive to their characterisation. The instrument will offer an uncompromisingly accurate portrayal of the true chemical 3D internal environment of a given sample, specialising in the analysis of organic materials.

The detailed chemical characterisation of real world systems will have applications in a multi-disciplinary range of new research whilst supporting existing research programmes led by the PI and Co-Is within the Schools of Pharmacy, Life Sciences and Faculty of Engineering working in the areas of drug delivery, antimicrobial resistance and electronics amongst others. The chemically rich information in the ToF-SIMS experiment has been found to provide critical information in the performance of a range of real world material systems. The instrument operates under ultra-high vacuum and can be used to characterise solid samples of any given chemistry. Critically this is a label free approach, providing a full characterisation of the chemistry, unbiased by sample preparation choices and artefacts introduced by fluorophores employed in cell and tissue imaging by optical microscopy. Using the cryo -preparation facilities, the instrument will be world leading in its capability to analyse frozen hydrated liquids or semi-solids (for example, stem cells and bacteria) thereby ensuring that it can be used to analyse a very wide range of materials and is therefore truly transdisciplinary in its capacity.

The University of Nottingham is uniquely situated to house such an instrument with an international reputation in the application of ToF-SIMS in the pharmaceutical and materials sciences since the late 80s and active cryo-sample electron microscopy programmes which can be applied to maximise the utility of this combination. The University of Nottingham hosts a centralised facility where the instrument will be located with equipment access and importantly expertise provided for internal and external academic research. Internal academic research programmes that will be facilitated by this instrument including EPSRC Centres for Doctoral Training in Advanced Therapeutics & Nanomedicines, Carbon Capture and Storage and Cleaner Fossil Energy, Sustainable Chemistry, Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing and Regenerative Medicine. Additionally, existing collaborative links will be exploited within the MI universities and amongst other national institutes to enable a step change in the 3D materials characterisation in areas such as pharmaceutics (Prof. Alistair Florence, University of Strathclyde), regenerative medicine (Prof. Molly Stevens, Imperial College London), semiconductor materials, devices and technology (Prof. David Wood, University of Durham).

Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Further Information:  
Organisation Website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk