UCL News


Press cutting: Small talk

23 November 2006

Dr Andrew Pelling [UCL Medicine] likes to rock out at the nanoscale.

Working with a musician colleague, he applied his knowledge of physical chemistry and an atomic force microscope to record sounds of a living yeast oscillating. "The Dark Side of the Cell" was an artistic offshoot of his PhD work in which he managed to convert the nanoscale cell movements he had discovered into sound. Now, having turned down offers from Germany, Japan and the United States, Pelling is pursuing his research on cell mechanics at the new London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL.

Like most students attracted to the nanoscale realm of biotechnology, Pelling uses a range of skills to cover new ground. Nanobiotechnology develops tools to explore the molecular mechanisms behind biological processes. With technology reaching the actual scale of biological events, three areas - drug-delivery systems, diagnostics and therapeutics - have come to the fore. …

Despite the many training opportunities, the job market remains uncertain. "It's too early to say whether nanobiotech efforts will translate into the industrial equivalent of the first biotech boom," says Professor Michael Horton, a nanobiotechnologist at the London Centre for Nanotechnology. More and bigger grants are allowing for the number of positions in some faculty departments to be increased - although some of these posts are taken by internal academics realigning themselves in the field. …

The potential that nanobiotechnology has in drug delivery, diagnostics and therapeutics will continue to engage the interest, if not involvement, of the large companies. In the near term, global investment in nanobiotechnology should give large companies plenty of projects to follow. Young scientists working in the field can benefit from this scrutiny - once they demonstrate results that have potential applications. "At the end of the day, people are looking for creative minds," says Pelling. For now, at least, Pelling is in a class of his own - nanobiotechnologist by day, cell jockey by night.

Virginia Gewin, 'Nature'