‘Nature and Nanotechnology from butterfly wings to antiviral surfaces’ - Professor Alistair Kean
I would now like to welcome professor Ian Megson who's the head of health research and innovation within the University of the Highlands and Islands to introduce our new professor. Ian. Thanks Sandra, it's it's a huge. Honour and pleasure to introduce. our speaker to today Professor Alistair Kean who joined us, um, a few years ago, and we were hoping. And praying that we would be have an opportunity to, um, do this.
Inaugural lecture in person, but unfortunately. Events have turned against us and we, we did eventually give in to the, to the online version. However, I am absolutely certain that Alistair is going to produce a fascinating talk. He always does. And he and I have shared a glass or 2 of of beer, discussing the wonders of physics.
Um, and and I really think this this should be a fascinating, uh, uh, discussion. But it's my duty really to introduce Alistair. Um, and to give you some background to how he came to be with, uh, the university of the highlands and islands Alistair studied applied physics at the University of Strathclyde. And he followed this up with a PhD at the University of St Andrews where he was working on di quenching in organic crystals. So absolutely. Nothing to do with health. Um, he claims he wants scored an 82, at the Old course, or the old old course at St Andrews and he also claims he has the 18 flag in his home office. So, if anyone from St Andrew's is here, and is looking for that flag. We now know where it is, um, from.
from St Andrew's Alistair moved on to both Cambridge and Glasgow. This is between 1987 and 1992. He was a research fellow at the Cavendish laboratories at Cambridge University. And he shared offices with several Nobel Prize winners, which is a real claim to fame. and following that, he moved on to the University of Glasgow to work on molecular beam epitasis for optoelectronic semiconductor devices. Easy for you to say.
He was also a lecture there for a year, but he decided to leave academia to experience industry. So I'm delighted that we've managed to convince him to come back to academia. Albeit with industry, as you'll hear later on. In 1992 Alistair joined the duneau project. Um, and at this point.
He applied to become cosmonaut not many people have that on their cvs So we saw an advert for to become a Cosmonaut in the paper, and he applied for it and it got shortlisted to 16. Uh, from 15,000 applicants, he refused to sign a contract. Um. Because there was no insurance so, uh, probably a good decision from you there, Alistair and again, we are delighted that you made that decision otherwise you may not have, uh, come to join us in the end. Um, after the duneau project, um.
Alistair, joined Sharp laboratories of Europe and, uh, from 1992 to 2000. so this was. Um, a step in a different direction from most academics, um, in that, he joined a large multinational company in Sharp. Um, and there he was helping to develop. LEDs and lasers for DVDs and data storage, which, of course, have become a mainstay.
Uh, for all of us. Not satisfied with with 1 company, he moved on from, uh, Sharp laboratories to a company called Chameleon. In the year 2000 s he was there for 4 years.
Um, then, once again, Alistair took a a rather unusual step in that. He, um. Left industry in that sense, and went to see whether he could, cook. So he joined, uh, The Mole Inn and, um, he. Cooked in that a kitchen for a number of years as well.
However, uh, industry and physics and the excitement that comes with science. Enticed Alistair the back in 2004, and he joined a company called, Mantis Deposition in 2004, and he was there for 9 years. Um. This is, uh, probably where Alistair really got interested in nano materials and nano deposition on to surfaces.
Which, of course, is key to his current role with the university in nanotechnology. Um, mantis, uh, went bust, which is what companies sometimes, uh, do, um, this is a point where Alistair took, um, a plunge. Into the unknown and decided to start his own company. Um, and Nika Works was the result of that, uh, that move to, uh, form his own company.
Alistair is still a director at Nika Work and. We obviously hope that there will be collaborations between. Not only Nika works that Alistair is, is involved with directly, but all the companies that Alistair has, uh. Come to collaborate with through his industrial contacts. 1 of those is Johnson. Matthey Uh, which is a large, uh, mineral mining company.
That Alistair is currently consulting with so his time with is part time. But we're delighted to share his time with the likes of Johnson Mattey because again, it gives us that collaborative opportunity. Alistair was working with Nika lights when he came up to in Inverness in 2016 to discuss A collaborative project that we were putting together. With a company that he works closely with, um.
Around anti-microbial coatings for medical devices, um, for use in hospitals. Um, it was, then that I met Alistair and we obviously hit it off straight away and, um, had lots to discuss about what we thought. was the exciting project that is city deal.
Um, at at the University of Highlands and Islands, and which extends across, um, the whole of the, UHI region. City deal is a 9 million pound project from from the UHI perspective and. The concept was to bring into, uh, the university that collaborative aspect with industry and, and Alistair just seemed the perfect fit for that, uh, that post. Um, equally we wanted a really novel and exciting angle. To bring to the university and to attract companies to the campus, um, in Inverness and Medical nanotechnology really hit the spot for for us. We felt there was there was extraordinary opportunity there.
Um, and you know, the chance to put UHI right up. Um, with the very best in terms of. Novel, um, techniques to.
The challenge the, the paradigm that we have in in, in medicine, particularly around the medical devices. So, I'm delighted to say that we, we managed to convince Alistair that it was a great idea to move here. I say move, of course, unfortunately. COVID-19 as, uh, come in and affected his ability to actually. be in Inverness as much as he would like to be, and he, he certainly. Um, always loves his time when he comes up here and.
As I say, we, we would have loved him to have done this presentation in in person because he is enthusiasm as you will find out a few minutes. Is infectious and, um. In in person, he, um, he just has the ability to capture the imagination of all of his audience. So, without further ado, I'm going to hand over to Alistair and please remember to put your questions in the Q and a.
Aspect of of the, um, of Webex and we will come to those at at the end. Alistair - over to you. Thank you so much for that introduction. That was a very a very, very kind introduction and then. Yes, you're right about the point of academia. I, I vowed, um, once, when I was an industry that I, I would never. Move back into an academic position and and throughout this discussion, we'll find out why, UHI is so unique and why I was drawn back to such as unique academic position. Um, so today, um, 1st of all thanks very much to. Um, Jill McNicol for, um, organizing this meeting and hosting it and and then putting us all to rights. Thank you for Sandra for introducing the, the, the, the talk and thank you very much
to Ian for his introduction to to the day, as Ian said, it's a great shame. it's not in person Because what I've missed over the past couple of years is especially up in Inverness, um, bumping into people and having a coffee and having a chat because that's really where innovation happens. Um. It's a great shame, it's not in person. But I'm happy to say, you know, it's a timeframe for an inaugural lecture its to share things with your academic.
Partners and colleagues, and also family, and I'd love to have been up in Inverness with my family, and, you know, taking just enjoying the, just enjoying the social life and the great ambience of being an Inverness. My family are spread all over the place. But I've been poking a lot of them to join us. So, hopefully I've got my son Finlay who's just started up at Durham University. My wife, Diana, who is probably working in a nursery now said she'd try in join in. My daughter, Isla, it's her second anniversary with her boyfriend. So she said, I'm not going to listen to you dad and and my wife is American.
So, um, I'm hoping that my family over in Maryland listening in on the other side of the Atlantic. I'm at this point. A special thanks to Ian Megson, Jeff Howarth, who was vice principal of research and enterprise at the university. It's down to Ian and Jeff for Persuading me and encouraging me to think about a post back in academia. Um, so thanks very much. And the reason I took the post, that is I've had opportunities for the past 20 years to move out of industry back into academia. You have to visit UHI to see why I came, but is such a unique place up in Inverness, but it's spread all through the highlands and islands.
It's an incredibly unique university it's ayoung university and therefore there is quite a blank canvas. It's a small university, which has advantages and disadvantages, but 1 of the huge advantages is that we all talk to each other and we can make things happen happen very quickly. So, I'm really excited about what's gonna happen there over the next few years coming years, especially. on the Inverness campus, which is a 250 acre site that we're, we're developing.
So, without further ado I shall, and. Attempt to share my presentation and hopefully, if you can always see that, perhaps someone could interject and tell me that, um, they can see the presentation. Hey, we can see it, but it's the other format. So I don't know.
Okay, I'll try a different method. How does that look Sandra or Jill. Lovely. Okay, so I, I'm going to talk for about. 25-30 minutes, we're not gonna get too technical here, but, as he said, you know, I'm fascinated by. And most things, especially science, my backgrounds and physics. I've worked a lot in in physics as Ian mentioned with Johnson Matthey I'm working on nanotechnology and chemistry. So learning a lot about chemistry. But what's absolutely fascinating about my working in Inverness is applying my knowledge in physics, chemistry, limited knowledge in biological systems to to healthcare.
So essentially using physics material science to interact with the extremely active research area that Ian already has had active for over 10 years up in Inverness. 1 thing I'm especially interested in is is. Nano technology and how we can take. Take lessons from, from nature. So, in this presentation, I'm I'm just going to give some. Examples of what nature does and how nature operates and how we can relate that to nanotechnology.
After that what I'd like to do is give you some examples of where we can see nano technology around us And then we'll look at some examples of how we can potentially. Apply nano technology, nano materials to health care solutions by finishing up with some specific examples. So, we'll start off with then something extremely simple, but in many ways extremely complex. So, this is a beautiful, um, photograph. I took in June actually, this year over in a forest just outside Ullapool Um, I think when most people get into the forest, especially my children, they'll get into the forest and say is it lunch time yet. When did we get there? What's for dinner? Can I go back and play my Xbox, et cetera? Um, they'll often
Wonder why I'm just kind of wondering about looking at things and I just caught this vision of a forest and you look up into the sky. There's some clouds you can see in the distance, which are water vapor, which interact with light in some amazing ways. A blue sky its blue because of a phenomenon called Rayleigh scattering of light And then you just look a bit to the green leaves and the trees and for me, I look at the leaves and think well why are they green. done being sort of absorbing other wavelengths. Or are they what are they doing with those wave lens? How did they how did they live? How did they absorb protons. And the trees are also made up of wood and and wood I won't go into details in this lecture, but there's a.
A material called nano crystal in cellulose which was refined from wood, which will be a wonder material of the future, allowing things such as plastic, concrete. Windows , biomedical devices, which are completely bio, compatible and biodegradable, so incredibly good for the environment. So, this, this is the world according to according to Alexander von Humboldt I'm a great admirer of I'm Alexander von Humboldt.
And he was, uh, principally a naturalist, um. He was kind of the inspiration for Darwin to set off on his voyages but prior to Darwin Humboldt explored the world and looked at the, the beauty of nature and. At 1 point, he was the world's most experienced. Mountaineer climbing peaks of South America to look for vegetation and insects and try and figure out how the world worked. But 1 of the things he said, which really resonates with me is that our imagination is struck by what is great. You know, looking at the world. But anyone that loves the natural philosophies should reflect equally on the little things.
So, I I think if Alexander was around these days. You know, who knows, I might be working with him, um, on the small things. I've taken this pictures, you know, we're just looking at some, some leaves, their water droplets on these and how the water interacts with the leaves. How the leaf is hydrophobic. It keeps water away, but also absorbs water and then water itself how it interacts with with video. Is fascinating So guess when Alexander was doing his examination of the small things, he was looking at things on the probably about the millimeter scale. So, during this lecture, we are going to get a 1Billion times smaller.
And see, what happens people often ask me about physics. and what is physics, and I've got a very simple answer. I'm to physics. Physics is the study of energy, and the applications of energy, and that's it. That's physics. In a nutshell. Um, you can extrapolate and say That involves things like electromagnetics and photons and electrons, but they're all energetic. Also people ask me about nanotechnology - what on earth is nanotechnology We'll get to more specific definitions of nanotechnology in a minute but, um.
1st of all, um, let's look at nature so when people ask me, you know, what is nano technology, I'll just ask them to look outside, describe to what they see. And quite often, you can describe that in terms of its operation at the scale of nano technology. And what we find is that. A lot of nature, life sciences, biology, physics, chemistry, operate at the nano scale. We'll get into the definition of what is the nano scale later on but just as an example, this is a beautiful butterfly, which I actually, I photographed in a garden in southern Maryland earlier on this summer.
Thankfully, I was allowed into America because I married to an American just in case any of you Are asking and how I got there if you take a butterfly wing. Um. And put it into the electron microscope, you'll see on the bottom right hand side here an image. So, this this is a structure on the surface of a butterfly wing. In physics. We describe this kind of material, as as a meta material. And essentially, a meta material is our structured functional material.
The structure of this butterfly wing, allows it to absorb and reflect light with incredible control. So, the butterfly we see here is orange in colour. If you look at the actual material of the butterfly wing, it's actually quite grey in colour. The reason it's orange is because it has a nano structured wing, which specifically interacts with light to absorb and reflect and that's a nano structure. That's a beautiful example of a natural nano structure. What we try to do now in nano technology is replicate. what nature has done in many ways. The advantage nature has had is, is that it has had. Many many billions of years to evolve.
As Darwin would say evolve over the years to protect its own species by evolving in the way that is most efficacious for its own species. That's quite fascinating. Another great example in nature is this little chap here. This is the. Namibian desert beetle. So this beetle. Survives in some of the harshest environments on earth - in deserts where is no water.
Virtually no water vapor in the atmosphere. But if you look at his back, you can see that there are droplets. If we look at this in more detailed in an electron microscope, you can see. Up to nano scale there's a periodic structure. of hydrophilic parts parts that attract water and hydrophobic parts. The way the beetle survives is that it's in it's attracts water molecules to its surface. When the water drops is of a specific size, it moves to.
Hydrophilic channel and these channels direct the water droplets into the mouth of the beetle. It's absolutely fascinating. This technology has actually been taken up and there's a technique called nano imprinting used to mimic this kind of coating. So that British soldiers now have tent fabric, which mimics the beetle. So, they can't take tents into the desert, and waken up in the morning with a couple of fresh water at the base of their tent so that's a real application of mimicking nature using nanotechnology. My American family might recognize the image on the right here with a lovely farmers market in southern Maryland. Thank you for taking us. But again, it's nature on the left hand side. We have the latest.
Super Mega Nano material in which colleagues at the University of Manchester gained at the Nobel prize some years ago. So Manchester's a hot bed of grafian research, which is a 2 dimensional nano material. But if you look in nature, you just see these kind of structures replicated all over the place. Um, so the right hand side, we have a beautiful, um, Honeycomb. with one of the combs was a little bit of honey, honey left in it. So, again, just, let's look to nature. Nature does it best? Let's try and use nature a bit it and use our.
Advanced technology to try and to try and do some good. So, in order to explain a little bit about nano technology, I think. I'd like to step back about, um, 50 years. Um, to the beginnings of what we call micro technology. So, micro technology is working at the scale of a micron.
So, we can always relate to 1 meter in size. If we divide a meter by a 1000 we get 1 millimeter. If we divide a meter by 1 million, we get 1 micron. So 1 micron is really. Pretty much impossible to see by the eye. It's possible to see about.
100 microns by your eye and to envisage what 100 microns is if you plot 1 of your hairs on your heads, then the width of your hair is round about 100 microns so it is pretty small. But if we go back to the 1970s, I look at transistors and micro electronics. 1 thing to say about micro electronics is it's quite. Obviously, the greatest technological advance. Ever by human kind, and the reason for that is if we look at the graph.
And follow that graph trying to put a pointer on. Hopefully you can see that, but follow that graph up and look at the logarithmic scale on the left. You can see the increase in the amount of transistors. Per unit area from 1970, pretty much up to the present. So we've gone in the 1970s. From about a 1000 per unit area up to about 50,000 million Which is unbelievable. I've got a picture here of my calculator, which I still use, which I bought in the late 1970s and it fits probably in about here. It has about, um.
1 kilobyte of memory, and I upgraded it 22. kilobytes. But to think how things have advanced in that since then it's quite astonishing. Where we are in 2020, micro technology Micro electronics is no at the nano scale so the, the size of transistors is a tiny fraction of a micron. We have to go, divide microns by another factor of a 1000 to get some to get something.
Called a nanometre, which is a. A meter divided by 1000 then 1000 then 1000 multiplied by 10 to the minus 9. So, that's taken us up too, pretty much the present day micro electronics nano electronics. Is a kind of nano technology, but it's a very planer technology. Um, in in, in semi-conductor technology. So, let's move on to nano technology, you know, so. What is nano technology? I've looked at Um, the U. S, the European definitions of nano technology, and I put together words in the way that I find it most easy to understand.
So, my definition is nanotechnology is science, engineering and technology conducted at the size of 100 nano meter or less. So, that means that we've gone from the millimeter to the micron a 100 nanometres is 1/10th of 1 micron anything less than that wee can class as being a nanotechnology. It's the science and engineering of now we know extremely small things and nano technology can apply to pretty much any area of technology. In fact, nano technology was alluded to. Um, by Richard Feynman, famous American physicist in 1959, actually, he. Challenged an audience at Caltech to really, really go for it and look at materials.
Really analyze some try and work with them take them apart. And go down as close as you can to the atomic scale and try and do something with them. The 1959 that was a very, very big challenge. Um, but towards in 1960,s and 1970s technology advanced so that we could start to think and manipulate material at that kind of scale. And that's when the term nanotechnology was was 1st, used.
Here's some pictures of mine, which again illustrate. Of what things are like at the Nano scale. As we explained earlier we take a millimeter. We divide the millimeter by a 1000 to micron by a 1Million. We get down to 1 nanometer a nanometer Um, is probably if you think of atoms atoms are again smaller than nanotechnology but 1 nanometre buys you about 3 atoms of of building block material. So we're just above the atomic scale.
On the left hand side here we have a. A, very nice image of nano particles. These are less than 100 nanometer. Um, and then if we zoom into these nanoparticles technology is so amazing now that we can. The blue circle is 1 Nano particle, and we can actually image individual atoms. Um, within this nano particles, so this image was taken by a Johnson Mathey, colleague of mine, the diamond light source facility, where we have an incredibly sensitive microscope? So we can actually see, um. Uh, the representation of atoms and the space between them. We've seen the butterfly, that we've described in previous slides.
So, why nano technology in life sciences and healthcare. Well, let's just focus on this vertical bar at the center. I'm on to for the sake of time, let's just focus on. The scale 100 nanometers to 1 nanometer, which we've described as being in the nanoscale.
And what you find it in the nanoscale is that, certainly in life sciences. We are at the scale of small molecules. And I'll put the larger scale surprise surprise. And we're at the scale of viruses, so we'll see later on a virus or a, a, veryon particle is actually a nano particle. And that's fascinating. To us, because we're operating at the nano scale and nature and disease.
Um, operates exactly at that scale. So we have to operate at that scale to interact with such materials. In the future. And quite surprisingly nano technology has been synthetical driven and used for hundreds of years and. So the top lefhand picture here is a blade that was made many hundreds of years ago, using a special technique and the steel itself is called Damascus steel. It holds an incredibly sharp blade. And it's only recently that we've had high resolution microscopy where we've been able to.
Take a slice of 1 of these blades and zoom in. And if you see in this image, we have got dark lines in this image and that's right at the edge of 1 of these blades. The dark lines in the image are actually a structure called carbon nano tubes, which were developed synthetically Only a few years ago, but by fluke of nature and the Damascus steel process, because of the lamination and temporary technique, naturally forms carbon nano tubes at the edge of the blade to keep it sharp. So they were being extremely clever. But they didn't really know it. On the right hand side we've got a lovely stained glass window, which is not 100 meters from where I'm sitting just now in Oxfordshire And stained glass is another example of nano technology to make blue stained glass many hundreds of years ago. The engineers technicians would take glass smelt it, and they would pick up some silver or mix it in with a glass and the glass turn blue.
Unbeknownst to them, they were generating silver nanoparticles, which have a nano plusmonic optical effect, on the stained glass window. So, I've had many interesting. Conversations with our local minister about the such effects. So, nanotechnology is out there - how do we use it? 1st of all nano technology can be applied to so many different things just to whizz through some areas here. People are looking at textiles, biomedical. We'll talk about in healthcare also food, agriculture, industrial. So I'm working on catalysis with Johnson Mathey. Electronics. There's the quantum revolution, which is being enabled by nano technology also close to my heart and important in the future is how do we manage air and water environment in the future using technology to detect pollutants to filter things to make things safe also renewable energy. So, for harvesting energy from sunlight, nanotechnology is playing a large role. So they're just so many areas in there.
What does a nano material look like? So. On the top left here we have a piece of filter paper. Um, and using the technologies, I use now, and will be using an Inverness we can apply a gold coating to surfaces quite easily. So if we do that. Because it's in filter paper, it's a kind of browney gold coating, but that's a thin film of gold on a filter paper. If we take that gold and not use atoms to deposit and make a mental film, we change those gold items into nanoparticles and make a Nano structured Nano particle coating and that's the coating we see in the right hand side here. So, on the very right hand side of this filter paper, we see a dark gray coating, which is exactly the same coating as the gold on the left hand side. It looks great because it's not normal gold.
It's a nano structured gold, which has completely different properties to to bulk gold. If you move over to the left, you can see there's a slight pinkish tinge to that and that's going back to the stain glass window where. Silver gives us a blueish tint gold gives us a a reddish pinkish tint because of the, the nano properties of that material. Um, and again, Here's our nanoparticles zooming into 1 Nano particle the little dots you can see in there are individual atoms. So the ability to control that subscale is is absolutely phenomenal zooming in as we did even earlier. And we can look at these 2 nanoparticles the atoms in them. And to give you an idea of the scale we are working on the orange bar separates 2 merged nano particles.
This line that separates the 2. nanoparticles is. About 4.2, nanometers in length if we use this scale. And this orange line, which might be about 10 or 20 centimeters on your screen. And as represented as 4.2 nanometers at the same scale I've replaced a human hair beside this orange bar, the width of the human hair would be about 2 kilometers. So that's the scale that we're working on is almost imaginably small.
But that's where things happen. So, we've seen that nano technology can be applied to many different areas. If we, if we look at how nanotechnology can be applied to betas and health care biochemistry. And there are areas such as imaging where we can look at things delivery of medicine. Nano reactors. So there is more than a lifetime work for.
More than 1 person's in in all of this. Up in Inverness we're going to zoom into a little bit of this area. Um, we're going to stop. Organic nanoparticles as time goes on for various applications, but will be certainly looking at imaging and such applications. In Inverness. At this point, I thought it'd be interesting to mention nanobots because, um, people are worried about Nanobots and the possibility of self generating nanobots that can move around the world self replicate and trouble is. And so I think we need to.
Just, um, look at this a bit little bit more logically. So, this image we have is a kind of. Artistic representation of what a nanobot might look like. Um, but the physicist in me looks at that nanobot and says, oh, hang on it here. In order to make an nanobot with arms and legs and controllers and vision.
That's quite tricky. Um, so if we look in this nanobot we have a CPUs so we got a computer chip controlling it. Its got arms to control things and it's got optics. Um, so I can look at this and say, I don't think that's going to be. Very small that beast. I don't think it's going to be a nanobot so I did some thinking. So maybe you could imagine how large in reality that nanobot might be.
I looked at and I figured it's probably going to be about 5 centimeters in size. I mean, the whole thing is, if you want something to run. Um, using a processor that limits the size. Also optics, the wavelength of light is about, um, about 1 micron and that's not nanoscale and also tribiology which is how arms and legs move When you go into the Nano scale tribology falls apart, and it's impossible to make things move without falling apart, at such small scales. So I think we need to take a step back and look logically.
The logical argument for nanobots is much more. akin to this kind of thing. Nanobots in the near future are much are much more likely to look like this kind of structure. So it's going to be a synthetic molecular structure designed with some kind of function. So, it's not a nanobot with arms and legs, but it's more like a Super molecule with structure designed for a specific applications.
Um, and then we'll evolve these for therapies and, um, uh, various other applications. And again, it's very worthwhile noting that. A virus is a nanobot itself and it's a nanobot that we don't want, it's nanobot that we want to detect and control and that's what we will do with our coordination, between our work in new nano technology and Ian's research, and his fantastic colleagues in his department. So, I'm going to talk about 2. Um, specific examples, and before I finish up 1 is, um, uh, an area that's fascinating to me that I've been working in for many years and bringing all my, um.
Partners to Inverness to explore is, um, the potential to make anti viral and anti microbial surfaces. Nature does this naturally insects of natural antimicrobial antiviral surfaces. Um, so I've been investigating how we might synthetically produce such structures. So I've been working with a a company Gencoa Limited in Liverpool. Um. We're looking at infections. People pick up in hospitals, even throughout the pandemic. Infections and hospitals haven't gone away there is still a huge concern. So we need to battle of what we do with viruses. We also need to work very hard to stop people getting infected when they're actually in hospital. People pick up infections from things like touching handles and wiping their face.
So how do we make these structures, um. We use a technique called, um, physical vapour deposition. It's basically physics, electricity plasma. And we use these techniques to evaporate materials, condense them onto surfaces in a controlled fashion to make our functional nano structure.
Ordinarily in semi-conductor physics, I would be making atomic smooth surfaces for a specific function. But what we discovered is if we want to try and mimic nature and make surfaces, which, which bugs don't like, sitting on, we have to start moving into the 3 dimensions and making nano structures. So, we, after many years of research, we came across a structure, which can. destroys kills bugs and destroys viruses extremely efficiently by building up a nano structured surface. And again. Mimicking nature very closely. What about viruses and. We see here that SARS-CoV-2. This is a very nice study done in the New England Journal of medicine. Um, and we see that um.
viruses can sit on surfaces over in the right hand side here of a nice example of plastic and SARS-CoV-2 virus sitting on that surface for several days, and still being still being active. So, we really need to think about not only viruses being airborne, but landing and surfaces and people picking them picking them up. This is looking at copper and some really nice work carried out by a colleague and Bill Kevel at Southampton University. And copper is a natural antimicrobial antiviral Um, material and these little round nodules are actual virions or virus nano particles, and he observed that by sitting on copper. The virus particles were quite actively destroyed.
That's really interesting. But going forward, we can't. Make everything out of copper, it just wouldn't be economical or or technically viable. So, what we've tried to do is replicate the kind of effectiveness of copper by using our nano surface. So to test how active our material is.
We essentially try and populate. Uh, a plate a dish with, with cells and with viruses, if the virus, is successful. Then you're gonna start populating yourselves with the virus, and the cells will be destroyed while the virus replicates. And you'll see that the cell count diminishing. What we then do is we apply our Nano surface to this kind of environment. And what we see is the reverse. We see that. Very quickly, um, we get a a very large kill or. And destroy rate of virus particles on that surface. So that that's extremely exciting.
Very exciting is that, um, typically in a, a health care environment, you would see stainless steel all over the place. So it's very interesting to know that stainless steel is not anti microbial or anti viral. So, if we have a bug sitting on stainless steel there's a high chance that it will be transmitted. So, what we are trying to do with our technology is. generate coatings, which are anti microbial, antiviral. but also extremely hard at the nano scale. It looks very rough, but at the optical scale is actually a very smooth finish, but it's rough enough at the nano scale interaction with nature so that we kill bugs and you should always keep cleaning.
And there's a whole area around Biofilm formation that will be another part of our research. So, to bring you up to speed, this is a very recent development where we have taken orthopedic implants on the left hand side. We have a stainless steel implants, also stainless steel, surgical instrument, which we know will happily host bugs and viruses on the right hand side. We have our Nano coated orthopedic implant and surgical instrument the surgical instrument. is going back to surgical holdings a UK manufacturer and the orthopedic implant is going back to partners in Brazil for, for further testing. So that's extremely exciting. The potential to reduce the possibility of of infection.
Another theme is how can we use nano technology to detect . bugs. So to detect bugs we're using a technique called Ramans spectroscopy which is a way of using photons to detect chemical signatures. It's very inefficient about 1 photon in a 1Million gives you a scattering event that gives you the information that you are looking for. By using our nano metallic surfaces, these can act as a. nano photonic amplifier and amplify our signal by and many many orders of magnitude and to do that, we've gone back to.
our gold in the background we've got gold coating on medical contacts in our petri dish we have a substrate coated with our plasmonic gold nanoparticles, and this substrate acts as a nano antenna to amplify the Ramen's signal. And when we apply, our nano technology to this form of, spectroscopy we start to. see spectra, this is a spectra we were measuring fingerprints of molecules. But the important thing to note is that we are measuring, um, a molecule down at parts, per billion concentration. And some researchers are taking this as far as being able to do spectroscopy on individual molecules, which is quite revolutionary. So the possibility of a using such systems to identify explosives, narcotics medicines at ultra levels, which is extremely exciting.
How do we apply that to bugs and viruses well what we'll do is take bugs and viruses apart and look for things called biomarkers. So fingerprints are indicators that these molecules exist. And I'm happy to say that census in Glasgow/University of Glasgow has funded a project between partners. So we actually have an active grant running though. We were developing sensors to detect pathogens in hospitals, which is very exciting.
And the nice thing is, we, we get partners in here, we got a really good partnership involving industry and academia. We have ourselves in Inverness, University of Strathclyde Polycat, Aseptium, inpoint so that's a great collaboration. And the outcome of this project will hopefully be commercial application of, of this, this technology. So, nanotechnology now and in the future, so many things are going to happen over the next years, decades and century. It's very exciting. Presently we're looking at very basic forms of nano materials, but these are going to involve into more active Nano materials doing some functional biochemistry with nano materials. Um. We will be, um, putting together, um, synthetic Nano molecules and devices and that would be the beginning of a revolution of bio robotics, artificial tissue, and then in-vivo bioelectronics and computing, we're gonna diverged from the, the earlier view of, uh, a Nano bot will do things following nature as a guide and trying to do.
Good. We'll look for the good thing with an eye to bad things that could happen so that we can keep all under control. And that's where my work together with Ian will be extremely exciting in the future. So, I've talked on long enough. It's wonderful to think of what will do in the future in Inverness. Thanks for listening in. Thanks to our collaborators in Inverness. Thanks to the city region deal. Colleagues at HIE and NHS And works going to continue up in Inverness, and we'll be moving into a new building in the beautiful campus in about a year's time.
In 2022. Thank you very much over to you Ian. That was absolutely wonderful as expected um, fascinating, uh, talk and thank you very much for. giving us your time to to explain what is a. Really quite tricky topic for for us mortals. Um. And, you know, trying to explain the, the sizes or the, um, the extremities that you you you extend science to is really quite tricky. And I, I think you did it. Uh, in a fabulous, uh, fashion, um, we, we, we have a question, um, from Kate McDonald here.
Kate asks how easy is it to add an anti microbial coating in situ to say stainless steel. Rather than on new small instruments. Yeah, because I've been in industry, I never do anything unless I know that I know it's scalable. So, the company I worked with Gencoa they research and new technologies and techniques for producing materials but they also work with companies such as Samsung and Apple to productionize.
So, Gencoa have lines in various big companies for producing coatings. So, if we're looking at coating either tens of thousands of surgical instruments or large area, coatings, then yes, certainly, we have technology to do that. And my intention is that we will, we will have active academic research in the next version of anti, microbial coatings at UHI But we'll also have a commercial hat on where we'll look to productionize this through a commercial output and the form of that commercial enterprise will depend on customers we work with. So, it may well, be an orthopedic implant company, or it may be a railway company, making ticket machines where they want to have anti, microbial, touch surfaces for to ticket machines, which is an active project. That we have running just. So, I don't know if that answers it, but happy to answer further.
I, I'm sure that does, uh, Alistair, but, uh, Kate is a fellow physicist so you've obviously sparked her imagination. So she's, she's got another, uh, question in there saying at what stage in size. Do quantum mechanics affects, uh, come into play someone had to ask about quantum mechanics. This is way of my head, so over to you, Alistair, I paid for 100 pounds to ask me that question. No. Um, I didn't I just didn't have time to get into it. Um, but quantum mechanics, so really quantum mechanics and material systems really starts to kick in when you get down to about 10 nanometers. Um, so. But quantum mechanics happens all over the place, talk to James Coberly about it quantum mechanics takes place in life sciences and bio molecules. It's just very hard to see in everyday life. The phone you have in your hand operates on quantum mechanic principles. So, in nanotechnology, there are.
Nanotechnology building blocks, which operate on in the classical domain. So you have classical physics and quantum physics. Classical physics is determined by things like, and utonian mechanics and maxwell's laws. The plasmonic absorption we are seeing is actually classical. Maxwell equation classical physics, but when you go down to small structures, then you can have things like quantum phenomenon called quantum mechanical tunnelling between adjacent nano structures.
So I'd be happy to set up another inaugural lecture to discuss in more detail. But it's a very good question. Um, nano technology and quantum mechanics are quite embroiled in each other. Great thanks and, uh, Kate's come in with a a 3rd question, which is a tongue in cheek question I think saying, when can we hope to have a physics department of, to which my answer instinctively is. We now do, it's just 1 part of physics and not the whole of it. And, of course, biology, um, invest in physics, physics all the time.
So, um, I'm, I'm afraid, um, Kate, if you're wanting a full physics department is gonna is gonna be some time but we, we're, we're doing our best at a very small scale. Yeah, we have myself and Susanna are post doc who's, um, joined us and, and of co-supervising manuel. So we're, we are in physics. Everyone needs physics Ian So you keep telling me yet. Alistair when we've discussed your, your vision of the future, and, uh, I apologize in advance for this sounding like an interview question. But, um. Uh, you've always expanded on what, where you see. Your, your, your vision of UHI in the future going in terms of Nano nanotechnology, can you.
Perhaps share some of those, uh, uh, thoughts with with the audience today. Yeah, obviously nanotechnology is such a huge area and we can't do everything. Um, 1 of the beauties of beauties of being at UHI in Inverness is that where there are, um, topics in Inverness such as such as life sciences and healthcare, but also environment, aquaculture, agriculture of water air. So, I'd really like to push in into these areas, because I've worked for many years in the industry. I can bring contacts in industry. Um, 1, huge part of our work will be and we discussed this within the university is funding.
And funding from the government whether it's Edinburgh or London is becoming harder and harder to gain, because there are so many people applying for it now. So, my, my ambition is to build consortia here. Um, consortium and consortia involving academia, SME and large scale companies, but it's almost, like, COVID has changed things. I think it's COVID has fundamentally changed the way we should work together. And rather than being. Competitive, um, we should look to the future and really try and work together to solve. Some of the world's problems is sort of rather large challenge but that's my my ambition is to enhance nanotechnology.
I want to see. Young people working in new enterprises in Invernes I want to see cooperation. But more than anything else, I want to see Inverness recognized as a place to visit, a place for people to come and live and work in advance science and technology.
Brilliant, thank you Alistair. I, I see that. Um. Sandra has appeared on on on the screen for me. So I'm, um, taking the hint that that's. Probably time to call a Q and a, to, to an end. So, I'll hand over to Sandra to close things off.
Thanks very much Thank you in Ian. And can I add my thanks to Alistair as well for an absolutely fascinating. Run through the wide range of the applications of. Nanotechnology through the natural sciences, and then ending up course, in a very contemporary situation with opportunities for real impact, um, in the areas of infection, something very close to my heart as a, as a clinician. So, Alistair, it's my duty to welcome you. Um. And say a little bit about the professoriate Professorship is only awarded to highly accomplished academics and is the highest rank and academia, and a very privileged position to hold in serving both the university and the wider community. We at UHI have recently celebrated our 10 year anniversary.
And have over 50 professors in a wide range of academic disciplines, and we can add this exciting new area of medical technology with our new professor of medical technology. I'm sure that our new professor will have a hugely rewarding experience he has been with us for some time, now and he's already alluded to that in his new role and intern. That will significantly be enriched by the value of his input. And again, he's given us examples of what's been happening already. So please join me in welcoming, Professor Alistair Kean to the professoriate of the University of the Highlands and Islands
as the first professor of medical nanotechnology And can I just wind up by thanking all of you today, for joining us? Um, there will be a video will be available on YouTube in the next couple of weeks. Um, can I also invite you to the next event, which is, in fact, tomorrow the 7th of October and that will be given by professor, Ingrid, Mainland and that's titled 'of trough and trencher: exploring food, fodder and feasting in the past and present.' And that's Professor Mainland inaugural lecture tomorrow at 4 o'clock. Details of any further events. Of course, you can find on the website, so thank you all again. Thank you Jill, thank you. Ian, thank you Alistair. Thank you to all of you for joining us today.