Quantifying structure and dynamics from the atomic to the mesoscopic scale
Any understanding of chemical, physical and biological structure and dynamics is fundamentally linked to our ability to characterise any material or process with the highest possible spatio-temporal resolution. All molecular science, if analytical or synthetic, depends heavily on the characterisation of sample identity in terms or both chemical composition and structure, sample stability and in case of mechanistic studies, temporal profiles of physical or chemical parameters. As our measurement accuracy of these sample properties and external variables improves, so does our ability to fine-tune reactions to achieve desired outcomes as well as our understanding of the molecular origin of many chemical and physical phenomena and our abilities to affect or clone them for our purposes. Widening the application of existing measurement protocols and techniques to new problems as well as developing entirely novel experimental, computational and analytical approaches to provide hitherto inaccessible information or data of previously unknown sensitivity or resolution will hence benefit all branches of the molecular sciences.
We use and develop techniques as diverse as spectroelectrochemistry, high-resolution microscopies and laser tweezers, Surface Force Balance measurements, gas and condensed phase optical cavity methodologies, Nuclear and Electron Paramagnetic Magnetic Resonance, X-ray and neutron diffraction and Mass Spectrometry.
Fundamental branches of measurement development and application span the following areas:
Magnetic resonance spectroscopy
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), and Electron Spin (or Paramagnetic) Resonance (EPR), play vital roles as analytical tools in medical, chemical, biochemical and material applications. In our dedicated centres, we advance both technique development and challenge current limitations in applications across the physical and biomedical sciences.
The department has a long and distinguished tradition in the application and development of optical spectroscopy techniques in the gas and condensed phases with most groups employing a mixture of experiment and computation. Applications of our work are as diverse as the investigation of physical origins of animal magnetoreception, the development of sensitive breath analysers based on absorption spectroscopy, surface analysis using Imaging Mass Spectrometry, the elucidation of chemical reaction mechanisms in atmospheric chemistry, and many more.
Mass Spectrometry techniques are developed and applied to obtain new insights into the structure, function and interactions of macromolecules, with a particular focus to apply this gas phase approach to the structural biology of heterogeneous and dynamic protein complexes in the context of their physiological and pathological function.
Single molecule science
Our efforts in this area stand out through a particular focus on completely novel approaches aimed at extracting hitherto inaccessible information at the single molecule level, such as charge and mass. Applications are far-reaching, from fundamental advances in molecular biophysics, to the development of novel methodologies for drug discovery and point of care.
Our expertise lies in the measurement of forces in simple and complex fluids, as well as in ionic liquids, and in the measurement of interaction energies between entities at the molecular scale. To this end we apply a variety of techniques such the Surface Force Balance, (Holographic) Optical Tweezers and the newly developed Electrostatic Fluidic Trap. These approaches permit us to measure ultra-small forces at very small scales, locally in 3D and time-resolved. Such quantitative measurements shine light on the properties of liquids in super-confinement, relevant for example in lubrication, on the strengths of novel materials, and on forces at play in biology. The ability to perform high precision measurements using molecules as probes of interaction energies is paving the way towards the discovery of previously unanticipated forces in interparticle and intermolecular interactions in the fluid phase.
Diffraction plays a crucial role in chemistry by enabling the accurate determination of the three-dimensional structure of molecules and materials with atomic resolution. These insights enable the development of new approaches aimed at controlling the physical properties of materials including sensors, catalysts, pharmaceuticals and energy storage materials.
Research at Oxford Chemistry led to the development of the lithium-ion battery (work of J B Goodenough) and the hand-held glucose sensor used worldwide by diabetics to self-monitor their blood sugar (work of H A O Hill).
Today, understanding electrochemical processes remains key to developing energy storage and conversion devices (fuel cells, solar cells, batteries) as well as being at the heart of much of modern biology and nano-technology and -chemistry. At the same time electrochemical sensors provide sensitive, selective, clean and easy to use approaches to the detection and monitoring of many important chemical species (gases, biomarkers, pH, ....).
Oxford Electrochemistry ranges broadly and deeply across fundamental and applied electrochemistry and spectro-electrochemistry to biology, fuel cells, chemical sensors and electrosynthesis. In all these areas the design, validation, modelling and application of new experiments and instruments is at the heart of our research whether it is on enzymes, nanoparticles, molecules or whatever. The work is generally bottom-up and characterised by a rigorous physic-chemical basis.