EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training
in Molecular-Scale Engineering
a Centre for Nanotechnology
CDT students
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The research remit of the Centre was broad, ranging from synthetic chemistry all the way through to electronic engineering, and including bio-nanotechnology, biochemistry, surface science, polymer physics, electronic biosensors, and molecular electronics. Before they joined the Centre, our students had a background in physics, medical physics, biochemistry, nanotechnology, biology and related disciplines. They joined the Centre as they wanted to use their skills to address broader scientific and engineering challenges (be they meeting the growing energy needs of the world, or developing better medical diagnostic devices, for example). The research of the Centre was divided roughly into four areas, but the (by no means exhaustive) list of key academic partners gives an indication of the broad scope of the Centre.

The student cohorts were involved in a wide range of nanotechnology research, including: the study of molecular patterning mechanisms, where a protein-DNA complex is formed such that it will bind to a specific location of surface-immobilized DNA with sub-10-nm resolution; the development of biotemplated magnetic nanoparticle arrays where biomineralisation proteins synthesize the nanoparticles in situ in nanopatterned devices; the investigation of highly sensitive nano-electronic devices for biosensor applications in clinical diagnostics; the real-time study of DNA–protein binding dynamics by high-resolution AFM imaging;  and, the development of techniques to control protein–protein interactions electronically, to make electronically-controlled molecular switches.

Key areas of research

Nanofabrication – The integration of top-down (lithographic) and bottom-up (synthetic chemical) fabrication is one of the outstanding challenges in molecular nanoscience, and one that researchers at Sheffield and Leeds have pioneered unique approaches to addressing. This research includes the development of near-field optical methods such as the Snomipede (www.snomipede.org), state-of-the-art electron-beam lithography techniques, and self-assembling biomolecular architectures.

Hybrid biological/synthetic structures – This research includes the integration of biological elements into nanostructured electronic devices and sensors (including medical diagnostic sensors), structures based upon supported lipid bilayers, low-dimensional systems comprising photosynthetic proteins, and dynamic, reconfigurable systems. The ability to configure biological and molecular elements dynamically by underlying micro-electronics would enable the realization of powerful self-adapting devices e.g. catalytic surfaces whose activity can be controlled externally.

Surface diffusional processes – Fluid systems such as phospholipid bilayers provide dynamic surfaces in which the lipid molecules, membrane proteins, and other molecules can be manipulated. This research includes the investigation of protein migration in supported lipid bilayers, development of Brownian ratchets for protein sorting, and directed surface diffusion using nanofabricated gradients of, for example, surface chemistry. We will explore how spatial confinement and gradients (phoretic, surface chemical, pH etc) can direct diffusional transport of mass, charge and energy, and transduce light into stored chemical potential energy.

Interrogation of molecular structures – Research includes the development of innovative high-speed scanning probe techniques to visualise biological processes at the molecular scale in real time, and the development of novel nanopores systems for the study of molecular recognition and membrane protein function. Light harvesting structures will be integrated into metamaterials to enable their interrogation and provide prototypes for biologically-derived pathways for light energy capture and conversion. In particular, we will explore mechanisms of energy transduction from biomolecules.