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Grant to Fund Million Peaks Project

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Schoenmakers receives this grant for his research project ‘Separation Technology for A Million Peaks’ (STAMP); Polman for the development of time-resolved cathodoluminescence microscopy, and Bakker for his research into proton conduction in structured water.

The grant will allow Schoenmakers to develop new high-performance separation technology capable of separating up to a million chemical compounds overnight. Polman will use his ERC Advanced Grant for the development of time-resolved cathodoluminescence microscopy. Bakker will use the grant to study proton conduction in structured water.

An Advanced Grant amounts to a total of 2.5 million euros per project and is awarded on the basis of the scientific excellence of both the researcher and the research proposal.

From ‘proteomics’ to ‘foodomics’

Many things that we encounter in daily life have an immensely complex chemical composition. The food we consume is a good example. It is likely to contain many thousands of different types of small and (relatively) large molecules. Human blood is another example. The number of different proteins alone is estimated to be between 50,000 and 100,000. Scientists understand more and more about the roles of all these different proteins and the more we understand, the more we want to know. This has led to the emergence of the science of proteomics, the goal of which is to qualitatively and quantitatively address the presence – and ideally the function – of all these different proteins. Likewise, some people have started to speak of foodomics, which aims to understand the nutritious, health-promoting or toxic effects of all the different molecules in our food.

Towards the separation of 1 million compounds

The science that is making these developments possible is analytical chemistry. One technique that has especially spurred the unravelling of very complex mixtures is mass spectrometry. This technique has developed dramatically. However, the possibilities of mass spectrometry are limited by the extent to which a mixture can be separated beforehand. Conventional (liquid) chromatographic separations allow slow separations (more than ten hours) of no more than 1,000 compounds. Two-dimensional liquid chromatography, a technique that has been developed at the UvA and in other groups, has the ability to separate up to 10,000 compounds.

In his STAMP project, Schoenmakers explores a different (three-dimensional) approach of liquid chromatography. He will develop a system to separate up to a million compounds from complex mixtures, hence the name ‘Separation Technology for a Million Peaks’. This different spatial approach yields a series of prints ('stamps') of separated compounds, which can then be further analysed with the help of, for example, mass spectrometry. The results of the STAMP project will help advance many fields of science, including (molecular) biology, chemistry, health, food, renewable energy and high-tech materials.