Giulia Giubertoni and Sander Woutersen receive IXA Proof-of-Concept funding

February 15, 2024

To develop an optical spectroscopy device for sizing molecules and nanoparticles

Innovation Exchange Amsterdam (IXA), the technology-transfer office of the UvA, has awarded €100,000 Proof-of-Concept funding to Dr Giulia Giubertoni and Prof. Sander Woutersen at the Van ‘t Hoff Institute for Molecular Sciences (HIMS). This will enable the researchers of the Molecular Photonics group to develop a new spectroscopic device capable of sizing molecules and nanoparticles, and assess its commercial potential. It will also help them to establish their spin-off company InSpectT.

In chemistry, the aspect of size is becoming increasingly important. Think of synthesizing nanoparticles for sensing or therapeutical purposes; studying protein aggregates that cause age-related diseases; or developing effective molecular self-assembly methods. With currently available conventional methods, reliable and accurate determination of the size of molecules and particles is often quite difficult, especially when they are in an aqueous solution.

Giubertoni and Woutersen plan to improve this by applying so-called Diffusion-Ordered Spectroscopy (DOSY) using visible and ultraviolet light. They plan to develop a device that will combine spectroscopy with simple flow technology, to measure the diffusion speed of molecules and particles. Since this speed is directly related to their size (by a simple mathematical relation derived in 1905 by Albert Einstein), the device will ultimately be capable of sizing molecules and nanoparticles.

 More solvents, lower concentrations

Currently, Giubertoni and Woutersen are already working on a DOSY device that uses infrared light, with a particular focus for analyzing mixtures of supramolecular  structures such as protein aggregates or cages. However, for some practical applications infrared light is difficult to use – in particular in water-based solutions that nearly completely absorb infrared light. In the device they now propose, the use of ultraviolet and visible light (instead of infrared) will allow the use of any solvent. It will also be possible to analyze samples with much lower concentrations.
Video on the DOSY research, produced by UvA university magazine Folia

In this picture Giulia Giubertoni shows the first DOSY device together with the research team. Second from left is Sander Woutersen.

For the development of the novel UV/Vis-DOSY technology, Giubertoni and Woutersen will team up with postdoc researcher Carolyn Moll to design, construct and test a first prototype of the device. They will also cooperate with both internal and external partners, including spin-off company Nano Hybrids that was recently co-founded by Dr Olivier Lugier and Dr Stefania Grecea of the HIMS research group Functional Materials. With the help of IXA business developer Francesca Rivello, and the assistance of the Amsterdam Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE) incubator, Giubertoni and Woutersen are in the process of establishing a spin-off company of their own: InSpectT.