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Dr. Nicholas Bell

Dr. Nicholas Bell

Postdoctoral Researcher, Keyser Group, Cavendish Laboratory

NanoDTC Student, Cohort 2009

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Key Publications

Research Overview

DNA makes a wonderful material for creating structures at the nanoscale.  It can be folded and shaped into three dimensions mimicking the traditional Japanese art of paper origami but at scales one million times smaller.  Nano DNA shapes made in this way mimic the intricate 3D structures of biological proteins and have a large range of potential applications such as biosensing and metamaterials.


My PhD work focuses on using DNA origami for improving the sensitivity of nanopore technology.  Nanopores are crucial to a sensing method for detection of single molecules by passing them through tiny pores (1-100nm in diameter) and measuring the changes in ionic current they cause as they move through the pore.  They hold great promise as a high throughput technique for a wide range of applications such as DNA sequencing and single molecule protein detection.  A great challenge in the field is the ability to control on nanometre length-scales the three dimensional geometry and surface chemistry of the nanopore.  DNA origami allows us to synthesise structures on this length scale with almost arbitrary control of geometry and nanometre positioning of functional chemical groups.
Formation of a DNA origami nanopore.  Top image: computer design of the DNA nanopore.  Each rod represents a double helix and dimensions are marked in nanometres.  Bottom image: electron microscope side-view image of DNA nanopores formed by self-assembly.
We designed a DNA origami nanopore shape as shown in the figure above with its constriction of 7.5nm [1].  To form an architecture for single molecule sensing we docked this DNA origami nanopore with a solid state nanopore approximately 15nm in size (see figure below).  This was achieved by applying a voltage across the solid state nanopore so that the DNA origami was electrophoretically trapped into the solid state nanopore.  The process is reversible since an opposite voltage expels the DNA origami from the solid state nanopore.  We are now working on methods for designing DNA origami nanopore structures that mimic the behaviour of proteins which control the movement of small molecules across cell membranes.


  1. DNA Origami Nanopores

Nicholas A. W. Bell, Christian. R. Engst, Marc Ablay, Giorgio Divitini, Caterina Ducati, Tim Liedl, and Ulrich F. Keyser

Nano Letters 2012 12 (1), 512-517

Nicholas Bell

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NanoDTC PhD Student 2009 intake

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NanoDTC Translational Prize Fellow's nano-battery wins accolades

Jul 27, 2017

Jean de La Verpilliere (c2013), NanoDTC Translational Prize Fellow and Managing Director of the newly formed startup Echion Technologies has won prizes in the Royal Society of Chemistry 2017 Emerging Technologies Competition and the Kings' College Entrepreneurship Prize

Call for Mini Project proposals

Jul 24, 2017

The NanoDTC invites Mini Project proposals from Cambridge Academics for its incoming c2017 cohort. Submission deadline is 20th Oct 2017.

NanoDTC Students and Associates visit Thermo Fischer (FEI) and ASML

Jul 12, 2017

NanoDTC Students and Associates visit Thermo Fischer (FEI) and ASML to gain industry perspective of the application of Nanotechnologies

Helmholtz Prize for Nicholas Bell (NanoDTC Alumnus c2009)

Jun 27, 2016

Dr Nicholas Bell along with his PhD Supervisor Prof. Ulrich Keyser has received the 2016 Helmholtz Prize for groundbreaking work on identification and quantification of proteins in complex mixtures using nanopore sensing.