Published: 22 June 2016

EPSRC award funds world's first ion beam imaging and molecular speciation system at Surrey

The University has won a prestigious EPSRC Strategic Equipment award for a unique system that will build on our Ion Beam Analysis capabilities to open up new possibilities in forensics, biosciences and energy.

The £600k EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) award was awarded to the Surrey team, led by Principal Investigator Dr Mel Bailey of the Department of Chemistry with Co-Investigators Professor Roger Webb (Director of the Ion Beam Centre) and Dr Carol Crean, after a highly competitive bid process. It will fund the installation of a Direct Analyte Probed Nano Extraction (DAPNe) system at the University.

Developed in the US and not yet available elsewhere, DAPNe is a tool that allows a minute quantity of sample to be extracted from a point of interest on a surface and analysed by mass spectrometry. Used in conjunction with Surrey’s world class ion beam analysis facilities, the new system will allow researchers to gain a detailed molecular profile of minute areas, potentially enabling scientific breakthroughs across a number of fields.

The equipment will be used by biochemistry and veterinary researchers at Surrey to identify and quantify drugs within cells – for example helping them to understand how TB medications interact within a cell to cause antimicrobial resistance. It will also help chemists to understand the performance of a new generation of fuel cells developed at Surrey which – while more eco-friendly and cheaper than conventional fuel cells – have a limited lifespan. Using DAPNe, they will be able to locate and identify degradation products on the fuel cell membranes, potentially leading to significantly improved performance.

Another area where the system could bring benefits is in better understanding materials based on carbon fibre composites, which are used in aircraft and other applications, while DAPNe will also be used to continue and develop Dr Bailey’s work using mass spectrometry to detect drug use from fingerprints.

The award covers a three-year project starting in November 2016 and will see Surrey collaborating with industrial partners including Dstl, AWE, AstraZeneca, GSK and Intelligent Fingerprinting Limited, as well as a number of academic partners.

Dr Bailey says, “I am incredibly excited about the possibility of having this capability for the first time in the UK, and to have the opportunity to use if for the first time in conjunction with ion beam analysis.”

“The University of Surrey has been a national facility for ion beam applications since 1979, and we have techniques that can provide trace element maps and chemical maps – what was missing was molecular speciation.”

The University of Surrey is the only institution to have won two EPSRC Strategic Equipment awards in the recent round. A team led by Principal Investigator Professor John Watts of the Department of Mechanical Engineering has also won a £1 million award to fund an advanced electron microscope.

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