National Physical Laboratory

2016 Vickerman Prize awarded to Melissa K Passarelli

Dr Melissa K Passarelli of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has received the UK Surface Analysis Forum's prestigious Vickerman Prize. The prize is awarded for work carried out by early-career researchers, which is expected to have a major impact on the field of surface analysis.

Dr Passarelli accepts the Vickerman Prize
Dr Passarelli accepts the Vickerman Prize

Dr Passarelli won the award for her work on secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS), developing a revolutionary new instrument, the 3D nanoSIMS, for high mass resolution imaging. Improved mass resolution allows for clearer molecular specificity, meaning more information can be observed within the imaged sample. The 3D nanoSIMS has the potential to make vast improvements in subcellular imaging, which could lead to breakthroughs in drug treatments and the battle against antimicrobial resistance.

SIMS is a highly sensitive imaging technique capable of imaging impurities at a concentration of one part per million. It works by focusing a fine beam of ions onto the surface of a sample, which causes further ions to be ejected. The ejected ions are accelerated into a mass spectrometer and analysed, producing a spectrum from which the identity of the ionised material can be discerned. By focusing this beam on different parts of the surface, an image can be developed. This allows scientists to monitor inside individual cells and discern the distribution of biomolecules in tissue types.

The instrument developed by Dr Passarelli's team is part of the 3DnanoSIMS project. It produces the highest mass resolution of any instrument in the SIMS community, meaning images can be taken with higher molecular specificity. The instrument also has tandem MS capabilities, a functionality that is increasingly important in the field of surface analysis and which is used to reveal the structure of molecular species. This allows for progress to be made in 3D subcellular and single cell imaging. It works by combining the advantages of two existing spectrometer designs, the IONTOF TOF.SIMS V and the Thermo Scientific Q-Exactive HF mass spectrometer with an Orbitrap detector, overcoming their individual limitations to produce a new hybrid 3D SIMS imaging device.

"We have worked hard with partners in industry on creating the technical and software specifications for this new equipment," Dr Passarelli says, "and it is an honour for our team to have received this prize."

The team's work is part of a collaboration with companies including GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, as well as academic bodies such as the Universities of Nottingham, Surrey, Strathclyde and the Francis Crick Institute. The work is also done in conjunction with ION-TOF, a leading manufacturer of secondary ion mass spectrometers and Thermo Scientific, manufacturer of Orbitrap spectrometers.This major UK capability will be officially launched by Sir Colin Dollery of GlaxoSmithKline on 29 November 2016 at NPL.

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Last Updated: 8 Aug 2017
Created: 17 Aug 2016

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