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Optical imaging of nanoscopic dynamics and potentials

Final Report Summary - NANOSCOPE (Optical imaging of nanoscopic dynamics and potentials)

During the project we developed novel methodologies for optical microscopy based on light scattering. We explored a number of implementations and applications, ranging from single particle tracking to label-free imaging of nanoscale dynamics, all the way to the detection and quantification of single biomolecules in solution. These projects allowed us to address questions covering a very broad range of topics and fields, from the basis of molecular motor function and processivity all the way to the origins of life from a synthetic organic perspective.
One of the most significant discoveries during this project was one that was not envisioned, most likely because it seemed too far-fetched a goal at the time. In 2013, we discovered that the central technology behind this project, interferometric scattering microscopy (iSCAT), was sufficiently sensitive to detect and image single biomolecules without the use of any labels or any other enhancing features. After continuously improving the detection sensitivity of our instruments, we could finally record images of sufficient quality, that we could determine the magnitude of the scattering signal with very high accuracy. We then discovered that the signals correlated exceptionally well with the mass of the biomolecule of study. In other words, we discovered a third way of measuring mass after the thousands of years old balance and the 100-year-old mass spectrometer, which we call mass photometry.
The impact of this discovery is potentially transformative not only for researchers, but all the way to point-of-care and diagnostics. The technology forms the basis of a spin-out company (Refeyn), whose mission is to make it available to the broadest possible user base. So, in addition to academic impact in the form of high-profile publications, there will be broader societal impact based on the availability of the technology, the creation of jobs, and enabling next generation science.