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Scientists 'Zoom' to be first to use new beamline

13 March 2019

A group of materials scientists from Imperial College London have become the first to use the Zoom beamline – the newest matter-probing instrument to open at ISIS Neutron and Muon Source.

The Zoom beamline, which is focused on nanoscience, is designed to study important industrial materials, such as polymers, emulsions, metals and alloys, and can also provide insights into how drugs interact with the human body. It is these capabilities that the team from Imperial College were here to exploit.

Using a technique called Small Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS), the group used Zoom to investigate the nanoscale properties of thermoresponsive gels – an exciting class of materials with many potential applications, such as tissue engineering and drug delivery. As their name suggests, thermoresponsive gels are gels that respond to changes in temperature – they can be liquid at cold temperatures, such as when stored in a refrigerator, but then harden within seconds when exposed to warmer temperatures, such as when applied to the skin or injected into the body.

One potential application for these gels is in cancer treatment. As these systems are liquid at room temperature, such gels could be injected into a tumour where it would convert to a gel state and become a sort of ‘drug depot’ – delivering high concentrations of drugs directly into the tumour.

As well as using SANS to look at samples at the nanoscale (billionths of a meter), the group were able to set up experiments that allowed them to subject the samples to different temperatures and strains to see how they responded at microscales (millionths of a meter). This unique set up allowed the team to view the sample at a variety of length scales and observe how it changed from its liquid state into a gel.

The users were excited to be the first to use the new beamline, and even the fact they had to start their experiment on a Saturday morning didn’t dampen their spirits!

Last updated: 13 March 2019

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