The research activity at SMILEs (Structural Molecular Imaging Light Enhanced spectroscopies) lab consists mainly of 4 research lines interconnected to each other. In the heart of all these research fields is strong nanofabrication activity to fabricate devices that allows the development of new methods for each research line.


1) Delivering energy at nanoscale.

This theme regards the research related to Plasmonics, mediated by nanostructures. This is a basic study that can be applied from material science to detection and spectroscopy even for bio imaging and structural determination.


2) Single molecule study and detection.

This theme regards the detection and structural studies at the level of single molecule when they are at very low dilution condition. In particular we approached a concentration regime down to attomolar (10-18 mole/liter). Even in this case the research is based on novel devices that are in-house nanofabricated. The application field of this activity ranges from material science (chemical analysis of impurities in highly diluted solution) to biomolecules highly diluted in serum for early disease diagnosis studies.


3) Novel methods and devices for cellomics

This theme regards the study of cells with new physical methodology. In particular, exploiting the results of delivering energy at nanoscale, we are studying both cell membrane and cytoplasm molecular content. Regarding the cell membrane, we are combining atomic force microscopy (AFM) and single molecule Raman spectroscopy. This combination is allowing new structural information on membrane protein and it is crucial because 99% of this type of protein cannot be crystallized and their structure cannot be determined by conventional diffraction-limited methods. Regarding the cytoplasm, we combined Raman spectroscopy with microfluidics and fiber based optical tweezer, for obtaining molecular information at the level of single cell component.

This methodology has strong potential in nano medicine and early diagnosis and therapy.


4) Imaging scaffolding and cancer study

The aim of this theme comprises the combination of different imaging techniques that ranges from visible, such as fluorescence and Raman, to transmission electron microscopy (TEM) in order to study both material science (2D material such as graphene and polymeric fibers) and cells (such as neuronal 3D growth and lipid droplets in cancer stem cells).

The most advanced results in this activity is related to two papers where we obtained for the first time the direct imaging of DNA with 1.5 Angstrom resolution, and the fabrication of a novel plasmonic device that can solve complex molecular mixtures at concentration down to pico-molar. In the last case we solved a point mutation in a human sample of breast cancer. This was the first application of plasmonics in advanced proteomics.

For all the details visit the Research page.