A new laser laboratory that will help scientists see how proteins become activated at a molecular level launched at Imperial College London on 29 April 2010.
The Ultrafast Spectroscopy Laboratory houses three state-of-the-art laser systems that can analyse the movements of proteins at a molecular level. The lasers work by generating intense light pulses that last for femtoseconds (0.000000000000001 seconds ) and the new lab will make Imperial one of the world’s biggest hubs for this kind of technology.
The lasers will be used to study light-activated processes such as photosynthesis. Researchers will measure the vibrations of atoms and molecules to understand how proteins involved in photosynthesis split water to release oxygen, a process that is currently not well understood.
Another project will look at a protein called phytochrome, which senses light in plants and some bacteria, to find out how it changes shape once it has absorbed light.
The laboratory is in the basement of the Wolfson building, to reduce any potential external vibrations that might interfere with the lasers. According to Dr Jasper van Thor from the Division of Molecular Biosciences, who has set up the lab, this is vital: “The lasers each sit on an optical table and a temperature change of just one degree Celsius can buckle these tables, changing the direction of the lasers on top. The basement location of the lab makes it ideal and protected from potentially disastrous traffic and tube vibrations.”
The lab has been set up thanks to a total of almost £3 million funding from the European Research Council (ERC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), The Royal Society and Imperial.