Developing Surfaces
Developing Surfaces
to identify specific molecules
Professor Andrew Abell
Professor Andrew Abell
Recognise Theme Leader
Molecular switches
Molecular switches
turning on and off
Recognise team
Recognise team
Find out who we are

Science Theme 2 - Recognise

Theme Leader: Prof Andrew Abell

Creating optically-controlled surfaces to recognise molecules in living systems

To design and develop new biocompatible sensing platforms for the reversible detection of reporter molecules that will drive our fundamental understanding of CNBP’s three biological challenges - Spark of Life, Origin of Sensation and Inside Blood Vessels. 

Read More


The interaction of key biomarkers with more complex biological receptors drives cellular function.  These interactions generate a signal, at the molecular level, which then drives key metabolic processes that are essential to life. The ability of these biomarkers to bind to their receptor is defined by a mutual complementarity of molecular shape and electronic properties. 

Understanding these processes, at the most fundamental molecular level, requires us to first identify key biomarkers that interact within cells, but also the signal molecules that are subsequently liberated. We need specific tools to study these processes and their associated down-stream effects. All this must be done with probes that operate at an exact cellular location and on a precise time frame.  The generation of such a biological sensor requires us to develop new ways to control and measure molecular function in solution and on the surfaces to allow precise and repeated measurement. This last point necessitates that the probe can be switched on and off on demand, to allow repeated and timely measurement. We propose to develop the tools to create such sensors that are capable of continuous monitoring of specific biomolecules, rather than single one-off measurements. 

The component molecular switches of the probes are activated photochemically, or by some other external stimulus, to bring about a molecular change that is able to modulate binding and interaction with a target biomolecule.  We are developing novel ways to detect these changes, for example through the detection of an associated electrochemical response. We are particularly interested in modular approaches to allow the assembly of versatile switchable sensing platforms that can be tailored to a given application, much like one might construct a Lego structure from its component building blocks or parts. A key part of our endeavour is to then exploit these sensing platforms within the arena of the three biological challenges. We are particularly interested in the detection of metal ions such as Zn2+ and Ca2+, reactive oxygen species, nitrous oxide, glutathione, and GPCRs.

We will:

  • develop optically controlled surfaces to recognise molecules in living systems
  • develop new ways of sensing molecular interactions and conformational changes.
  • produce novel reporter molecules of importance to the three biological challenges
  • advance strategies for surface attachments 
  • advance our fundamental understanding of the three biological challenges


The Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics links Australia's key nanophotonics groups and builds on Global Collaborations with a focus on doing the science required to advance biology.