Nano on the big screen

On February 26, 80 guests from the worlds of politics and sciences went on a voyage of discovery into the nano world in the Oris cinema in Liestal. The evening was organized by the University of Basel and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute in honor of Professor Christoph Gerber. More than 30 years ago, Professor Gerber developed the atomic force microscope with two of his colleagues and was awarded the prestigious Kavli Prize, regarded as the Nobel Prize for nanoscience. His invention allowed scientists to examine the nano cosmos for the first time.

Professor Schenker-Wicki, President of the University of Basel, welcomed the invited guests and thanked the Cantons of Basel-Landschaft and Basel-Stadt, which support the university, and the neighboring Canton of Aargau for its significant commitment to nanoscience research. She emphasized how honored the University of Basel is to count a Kavli Prize winner among its researchers. After greeting the audience, Monica Gschwind, head of the department of education, culture, and sport for the Canton of Basel-Landschaft, provided an overview of areas that have the potential to progress with the aid of nanotechnology.

Professor Christian Schönenberger, Director of the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, which is supported by the Canton of Aargau and the University of Basel, explained in more detail what makes the nanosciences so special. Using several examples, he demonstrated how important the size of particles and structures can be – the size of particles can determine their color; and even the lotus effect is based on structures mere nanometers in size. Professor Christoph Gerber then took the audience back more than 30 years to when he and his colleagues built the first atomic force microscope with very basic materials. He showed how quickly his invention has developed and the areas in which atomic force microscopy is used today.

This was followed by several short and highly illuminating presentations on current research made possible by the development of the atomic force microscope. Dr. Urs Matter from Nanosurf AG, which is based in Liestal, demonstrated how a nanoscale balance can be used to calculate the mass of individual cells in a cell culture and how scientists use this data to obtain information about the health of cells. Nanosurf has been one of the leading manufacturers of atomic force microscopes for many years now and is bringing this nanoscale balance (which Christoph Gerber helped to develop) to market.

Professor Ernst Meyer from the Department of Physics at the University of Basel uses the atomic force microscope to observe individual molecules. This enables him and his team to watch a minute catalyst at work, step by step. Research of this type helps to improve understanding of catalytic reactions and develop more efficient catalysts. Argovia Professor Roderick Lim from the Biozentrum at the University of Basel works at the interface between physics and biology. Using illustrative examples, he showed how he can use a high-speed atomic force microscope to display the pores in a nucleus membrane. His research reveals how such nano machines steer and control the transport of molecules.

This informative evening was brought to a close by Dr. Marija Plodinec of Nuomedis, a start-up of the University of Basel that uses atomic force microscopy technology in cancer diagnosis. Dr. Plodinec showed that elasticity can differ between the cells in a tumor and that the soft cells in particular are able to metastasize. Working on this basis, the ARTIDIS device developed by Nuomedis can determine the risk presented by a tumor.

The scientists’ short presentations provided a very good insight into the microscope developed by Christoph Gerber, Gerd Binnig and Carl Quate, its wide range of applications, and how it aids understanding of the enthralling nano world. The reception that followed gave all participants plenty of time to ask questions and learn more about the fascinating research being conducted at the University of Basel and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute.