Here, I hope to highlight the emerging scientific developments in the field of Chemistry and also my journey as a researcher.

I obtained my PhD at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, India. My doctoral work revolved around understanding solute dynamics in complex fluids like ionic liquids by employing time resolved fluorescence techniques. Currently, I am a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow at KU Leuven and my research is focussed towards investigating pi-conjugated systems using a range of scanning probe techniques like Atomic Force Microscopy, Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy and also Tip Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy. A major part of my Marie Curie funded research pertains to the investigation of the self assembly behavior of DNA molecules in the presence of ionic liquids and ionic liquid solutions.

By Sugosh R. Prabhu

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“Seeing is believing” is often a commonly used phrase in the scientific corridors. Microscopy therefore, is a magnificent branch that actually equips researchers with the power to visualize things in a manner that was previously thought to be impossible. Despite the sophistry involved with the interpretation of many of the images obtained through microscopy, scientists and general audience alike, always fall for visual evidence that details the intricacies of a cell or a molecule or a nanoparticle.  The advent of electron based microscopy techniques like Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy has further empowered researchers to delve in the world of atoms. In other words these techniques have made it possible to even look at molecules with atomic resolution.

The charm of an image detailing the components of a complicated system, say a DNA molecule, is enduring, however the flip side is that spectroscopic characterization of the sample is essential to understand the events happening at the microscopic or nanoscopic scale. Spectroscopy and microscopy should therefore go hand in hand, and scientists as early as in 1985 have suggested combining scanning probe techniques with methods like Raman or Infrared spectroscopy to get simultaneous information of the topography as well as the chemical nature. Tip Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy, popularly abbreviated as TERS is one such method that combines Atomic Force Microscopy or STM with Raman Spectroscopy. This unique combination gives the analytical scientist the ability to look at the surface in optical, topographical and chemical detail. Previously, it was thought to be impossible to view an object having dimensions less than half the wavelength of light. This limit is generally known as the Abbe limit. TERS however breaks this limit by making the resolution at molecular level possible with the added advantage of the chemical information. The mechanism in a nut shell is shown in the schematic.
 

In TERS technology, a nanometric locally enhanced field in the immediate vicinity of the metallized tip apex is generated under the incident laser light illumination as a local-excitation source in the nanometer scale. It can be used to locally excite optical signal of the specimen and produce Raman scattering just from the nano-volume in close proximity to the tip apex. The tip apex is the key device in TERS as a local-scatter, which enhances and scatters the localized evanescent field to the far-field to be collected and detected. It ensures the high enhancement and resolution beyond the diffraction limit. In essence, TERS is capable of recording submolecular resolution images that contain the spectral signature of each spot probed by the tip.

Prof. Volker Deckert and co-workers (from Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany) have used TERS to sequence a RNA molecule. Application of TERS to nucleic acids has been a revelation as it allows the resolution of closely spaced individual nucleobases (see schematic). Another group at ETH Zurich led by Prof. Renato Zenobi has extensively characterized the Raman spectra of DNA. These studies can now potentially lead to understand interactions of DNA with molecules like proteins, anticancer drugs etc. In another report, TERS study of Amyloid β, (a secreted proteolytic derivative of amyloid precursor protein which is a critical factor in the early ‘synaptic failure’ that is observed in Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis) was carried out, thereby showcasing the immense applicability of TERS to unexplored domains of biology.

Despite the challenges involved in making TERS a routine analytical technique, its future for biological studies is looking brighter than ever. To conclude, the proverbial line “A picture is worth a 1000 words”, seems apt for a TERS image, with the slight modification that “A TERS image is worth a 1000 spectra loaded with priceless chemical information”.

 

Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on Dec 12, 2018 10:48 AM GMT
The famous movie National Treasure has a very interesting climax wherein Benjamin Gates, (a role portrayed by Nicolas Cage) a treasure hunter, painstakingly finds the greatest wealth left by the founding fathers of the country. He informs of his discovery to the FBI agent which transcends into a stimulating conversation. When the FBI agent asks him what is to be done with the treasure since it is too great for any one person to own, Gates responds by saying that the treasure should be divided among museums and directly or indirectly should be returned to the people.
The movie no doubt was exciting, however the point I wish to stress here is the aspect of human nature to keep secrets. Be it Da Vinci’s unusual backward writing to keep thieves at bay or Newton’s anagrams for fear of someone stealing his ideas, ‘secrecy’, was the only mode of operation. In the movie, Gates was absolutely right in suggesting the wealth and knowledge discovered should be shared with all of mankind. In the real world however, nothing is free. Of all the other things I strongly believe that knowledge at least should be freely available and in our case ‘accessible’. Now, let’s move on from the Gates in the movie world to the Gates in the real world. Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft) recently became a part of ResearchGate- a well known networking and information sharing website for scientists. A man who has championed the cause of eradication of polio, malaria and tuberculosis is now keen on investing in ventures which advocate openness in sciences. He recently said that, by the next two decades most of the countries in the world would be rich. An open and transparent scientific community may well become the catalyst for his prophecy to become a reality.
Openness in Science collectively embodies a lot of facets like sharing of raw data, publishing in open access journals, making journals available to universities and research institutes free of cost, discussing failures and successes in experiments etc. As a part of the scientific world we may question and argue that we “researchers” are fairly open considering the high number of symposiums and conferences happening worldwide. In contrast most of us know that the real science happening in the four walls of our laboratory seldom leaves the lab. The discussions, arguments and debates decay in the laboratory itself. Only the positive results actually come out and that too in the form of a published article in a peer reviewed journal having limited reach.
Published articles give a very small window into a research activity carried out by a particular group. It is the raw data which in essence showcases the trials and failures the experimentalist has gone through. Discussing raw data is crucial so as to incorporate viewpoints from every angle. Some scientists fear that discussing lab notebooks may open a can of worms and will expose them to unnecessary criticism and opinions. The other risk includes that of a competitor or colleague using the available data for his/her own publication without giving due credits. Nevertheless, the benefits by far outweigh the perils which include increased opportunities for partnership, more feedback from the scientific community, and a greater possibility that the research will get to the people who can use it.
Another way of maximizing interactions and sharing research is by publishing in open access journals. Open access extends the reach of research beyond its immediate academic circle. A person from any field can access these articles. One of the major beneficiaries of open access are users in developing countries, where currently some universities find it difficult to pay for subscriptions required to access the most recent journals. However publishing in open access journals boils down to the choice of an individual. Many would prefer to publish in a high impact factor journal as the open access journals generally rank low on impact scores. Instead of making “Openness in Science” an issue of morality an institutional change is required. Various chemical societies, some even owning high impact journals, have been toying with the idea of opening up the chemical sciences for quite some time. Some of them, like the RSC itself have started surveys, studies and research pertaining to open science. These studies will definitely help to take a correct and cautious step towards opening up scientific information.
Opening up the chemical sciences won’t be easy and there will be many hurdles like funding, managing data, accountability, fear of plagiarism etc. Nonetheless, with concrete systems in place this initiative will soon become a reality. The tennis world steered into an Open Era in 1968 (in a different context) and I hope in the near future there will be an Open Era for sciences as well.




Image Courtesy- Pearline Veigas
Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on Jun 30, 2014 6:41 PM BST
As 2013 finally passes ....and as we enter an exciting 2014.....here are some relevant news snippets that made 2013 memorable.
The first one though not relevant (and not in the chronological order) was the retirement of cricketing legend Sachin Tendulkar. His departure from the sport left everyone misty eyed. Come January 26 (Indian Republic Day) he will be conferred with the highest civilian honour by the Indian Government which is the Bharat Ratna (Diamond of India). On the same day Indian Scientist Prof. C. N. R. Rao who also happens to be an honorary fellow of the RSC will be conferred with the same honour.
The other BIG development was the visit of Britain Prime Minister David Cameron to India. Though he was on a hurricane visit, he addressed many important issues. On the visa bond issue, Cameron said Britain needs to control immigration as it is a much smaller country geographically than India but at the same time he clarified that there was no limit on number of Indian students going to UK.
"Fact one, there is no limit on the number of Indian students that can come to Britain and study; fact two, having completed your university degree there is no limit on the number of people who can do a job in Britain," he said. This is definitely positive news for Indian students looking for opportunities in Britain. (Quoted from the Indian Express).
Finally the greatest scientific news that made all the headlines in 2013 (in India) is the Mangalyaan i.e. the Mars Orbiter Mission launched in the earth’s orbit on 5th November 2013. It is India's first interplanetary mission and, if successful, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) would become the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and European Space Agency.
2013 was definitely an year to remember........Hopefully 2014 will be even more exciting..........On this note I wish everyone a very Happy and Prosperous...err .............and yes..... considering the times we are living in I would like to add A very Happy Prosperous and PEACEFUL new year!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on Jan 1, 2014 4:54 PM GMT
It’s been a while since my last blog; hopefully the following blog would do justice to
the long gap. Here, I hope to highlight a very unique initiative by Dr Arnab
Bhattacharya and his team for popularizing science.

 
Promoting Science is as important as doing quality research. The moment anyone says a scientific talk or a lecture will be delivered, the general idea one gets is that of a sophisticated environment sad with the speaker bombarding the audience with his complex recitalsblushsurprise. The curiosity aspect is generally killed in these lecturesangry. This is true for at least students who are at the under graduate level, and maybe to a certain extent even for students at the masters level. Now imagine a totally different scenario i.e if a speaker walks in and says “I love questions!!! yes Especially the ones starting with – I feel it’s stupid…but…angel” This has essentially been the motto of the CHAI and WHY team (http://chaiandwhy.org/). Chai & Why is an initiative enlightened started by Prof Arnab Bhattacharya who handles the public outreach programme of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR, Mumbai). Chai is the Indian word for tea, so basically the idea is to discuss science over a casual cup of tea!!!

It all started in 2009, inspired by Science Café in the US and Café Scientifique in Europe, Prof Bhattacharya started organizing popular lectures on science. The first lecture was held on 2nd Jan, 2009 (coincidently the birthday of Issac Newton) and since then its popularity has grown immensely. The topics are chosen carefully and are of general interest to the listeners. So far, Chai and Why has seen a remarkable and diverse set of interesting topics (for more details see link- http://www.tifr.res.in/~outreach/outreach/chaiandwhy.html). From science in the kitchen to science in the bathroom, from science in the playground to scientific ballooning, from Darwins evolution theories to traffic jams, from nanotechnology to music, Chai & Why has managed to touch almost every aspect of science. The speakers range from PhD Students to established researchers. Moreover, researchers outside India have also been a part of this initiative.

The typical format starts with an introductory talk from the speaker and followed by an informal discussion over chai (tea). The speaker then takes questions from the audience. While one may think it could be intimidating to ask a scientist questions from a lay man point of view the atmosphere is so informal that the only feeling lingering is that of curiosity. This infact is the USP of these lectures. The audience comprises of school students, graduate students and even the general public (who feel science is not their cup of tea).

With such a unique setup the ideas flow freely and the discussions become inciting and stimulatinglaughdevil. Here science unravels itself in its very raw form and yet easily digested. The bottomline is science need not be discussed only in the laboratories or conventional lecture theatres, if presented in the right way and with the right enthusiasm (like Chai & Why) scientific ideas can be shared and discussed almost anywhere.

Some of the Chai & Why lectures are recorded and can be accessed on their YouTube channel
http://www.youtube.com/user/chaiandwhy?feature=watch

More details about the current activities can be found on facebook
https://www.facebook.com/chaiandwhy

Link to Prof Bhattacharya's group page
http://www.tifr.res.in/~arnab/index.html

Also some of the links from where I have taken information
http://mummyknowsbest.com/2011/04/30/chai-and-why/
http://www.mydigitalfc.com/knowledge/science-behind-cup-chai-450
http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/taking-science-out-lab



So keep on sipping the hot tea and yes keep the questions comingwinkcoolsmiley!!!!!!!
Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on Oct 9, 2013 8:08 PM BST
Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on Oct 9, 2013 7:56 PM BST
Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on Oct 9, 2013 7:56 PM BST
The year 2013 is being celebrated as the centenary year of Bohrs Atomic model. The model given in 1913 by Neils Bohr is truly a milestone in the modern science era. Information on Bohrs scientific contributions is known worldwide (see link). He was a builder of institutions and people. He founded the Institute of Theoretical Physics in 1920 which is now known as the Neils Bohr Institute (see link) . Apart from this he pioneered many scientific programmes. He was truly an extraordinary scientist and an equally efficient administrator.
Neils Bohr belonged to an era where research institutes were less. In the 19th century the world did require maximum scientists to take on the role of administrators and nation builders, but in the present scenario, where there are institutes and funding for almost every aspect of science , do we require more than 50 percent of the scientific strength to take on the role of administrators? Aren’t the scientific brains better of doing research rather than charting out policies or doing some paperwork? How many scientists actually spend time for scientific thinking or solving research problems? Most of them are generally busy writing research proposals for some funds or they are busy drafting policies. Writing research proposals, acquiring funds and making policies though very important and researchers should definitely be involved at a certain level but the major focus should be research. A researcher’s true identity is his/her scientific contributions.
As a Phd student I ponder and worry that once I am an established researcher, (a looooong way to go!!!!!!!) how am I supposed to strike a balance between Science and Administration. The argument people put forward is that it all depends on person to person. However the problem is partly institutional and partly individual. There are examples wherein senior professors still participate in experimentation whereas some in spite of having a thirst for science are forced to do administrative work.
Neils Bohr pursued a scientific problem relentlessly and found a solution to it. It was only after he grew in stature that he went on to work for the development of sciences which was essential and relevant in his era. Similarly Sir C V Raman discovered the Raman Effect and it was later on in his carrier he participated in various developmental activities. These people were passionate about science and it was this passion which culminated in their participation for setting up institutes. Thus, the writing on the wall is One has to do science to develop science.
The things that will inspire the coming generations are discoveries and inventions. I firmly believe that a scientist should venture into administration only when he feels that his scientific temperament is wearing out and he/she can now contribute at an administrative level



enlightenedMore about Neils Bohr-
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Niels_Bohr

enlightenedLink to Neils bohr Institute-
http://www.nbi.ku.dk/english/

enlightenedLink to some interesting quotes by Neils Bohr
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/n/niels_bohr.html
Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on May 28, 2013 5:46 PM BST
India was still a young country to the foray of science when Sir C. V. Raman won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930. It was the first instance wherein a scientist working on Indian soil won the highest prize in science. Sadly, it was the last instance as well.
The other Indian Nobel laureates in sciences won the coveted prize working in foreign institutes. Never the less, every landmark discovery in itself has the ability to inspire a hoard of young minds. Apart from Sir Raman, there have been quite a few individuals who have shaped up India’s scientific future. If one talks about Space Sciences in India then Dr. Vikram Sarabhai is a prominent name. The same goes for nuclear sciences as well. Here the inspirational individual was Dr H.J Bhabha who laid the foundation for nuclear sciences in India. Apart from being exceptional researchers they were great visionaries.
Dr Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar, Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray and Satyendra Nath Bose (to name a few!!!) are other Indian Scientific luminaries who have contributed to the development of Indian Science. The curious thing here is that all the above mentioned scientists had a strong British connection. All of them were associated with British institutes at some point in their illustrious carrier. Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, widely considered as the father of modern Indian Chemistry was honored by the RSC with a Chemical Landmark Plaque in Kolkatta (formerly Calcutta). With such a strong Indo-British connect I feel it is now for the Gen-Next to take this association forward. With this short historical background I open the blog “Chemical Sciences from an Indian Perspective”.


Did you know- The RSC awards Chemical Landmark Plaques to places where important chemical breakthroughs have taken place!!!!! enlightened
Posted by Sugosh Prabhu on Apr 16, 2013 9:12 AM BST