One molecule at a time

Nanotechnology, the application of science that develops new materials and processes by manipulating molecular and atomic particles, is emerging as one of the great, uncharted frontiers of the 21st century. 

In the next few years, nanotechnology is expected to dramatically improve manufacturing techniques, enabling people to make products that are stronger, lighter, cleaner and cheaper. Scientists will be able to snap together molecules – the basic building blocks of nature – in a way that is simple and inexpensive.

Sylvie Morin, professor of chemistry at York and the Canada Research Chair in Surface and Interfacial Electrochemistry, is researching new ways to develop and diversify the applications of nanotechnology.  

Left: Sylvie Morin

Using scanning spectroscopy, Morin is studying metal ions at the atomic and nanometric scale. She is determining how these ions, suspended in a liquid solution, can be used to create a film so thin that it measures only a few nanometers in thickness (one nanometer being a millionth of a meter) and it is virtually two-dimensional.

“A better understanding of these films,” said Morin, “may ultimately contribute to the growth of nanotechnology, particularly in areas like nanoelectronics.”

Her work on thin films also has important applications for cancer diagnosis. In collaboration with Michael Siu, director of York’s Centre for Research in Mass Spectrometry, Morin is designing thin organic surfaces that can selectively bind biological molecules, including protein markers that may aid the diagnosis and prognosis of diseases like cancer.

“Of course,” explained Morin, “these cancer markers can be really difficult to bind and identify.” As a result, there are currently few clinically useful cancer markers. Ideally, however, researchers could place cell material on a thin organic surface and, and after rinsing it with the appropriate solution, analyze the cell’s proteins.

“By understanding how these films can be produced and understanding the interactions with the proteins,” said Morin, “we can design better surfaces. And that means better, faster and more accurate diagnosis for cancer patients.”

The above article was submitted to YFile by Jason Guriel, York’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada SPARK student (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge). Guriel, a second-year graduate student in English, is writing stories on York NSERC-funded researchers throughout the academic year.

SPARK is a program that was launched in 1999 at 10 universities across Canada. Through the program, students with an aptitude for communications are recruited, trained and paid to write stories based on the NSERC-supported research at participating universities. Information on the NSERC and the Spark Student program is available by logging on to York’s NSERC Research site here