Taking a peek into the biological nano-universe. Barbora Špačková will build Dioscuri single molecule optics centre

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The Max Planck Society has announced funding of the second Czech-German Dioscuri Centre at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences (FZU). Its future director, Barbora Špačková, will focus on the development of new technologies providing new insights into the biological nano-universe. The centre has received five-year support of up to CZK 35 million and will start to operate in the summer 2024.

"It is really great that FZU will host two centres out of the three awarded in the inaugural year of the Dioscuri programme in the Czech Republic. This is an excellent opportunity to significantly advance key scientific topics that will be addressed by Barbora Špačková and Helena Reichlová," said Michael Prouza, Director of the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The aim is to contribute to the fundamental understanding of life at the molecular level

Life's most vital processes take place on the nanometer scale, a billion times smaller than the size of a human body, where molecules orchestrate its complex functions. Yet, current microscopy tools face limitations in peering into this realm, which leaves us with a myriad of unanswered questions related to the fundamental understanding of molecular processes pervading life.

"Scientific breakthroughs have often been initiated by the invention of new tools and techniques. In biology specifically, optical methods and microscopy have revolutionised our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of life," said Barbora Špačková.

The Dioscuri Centre will develop an experimental toolbox, using the principles of nano-optics and nanofluidics, to study life at the molecular level in a way that has not been possible before – in real time and in its natural conditions. In collaboration with experts in the field of molecular biology, it will address questions of molecular transport in cells, or aggregation processes associated with the emergence of neurodegenerative diseases. This research will pave the way for new strategies for early diagnosis and effective treatment.  

"Over the past few years, the Department of Optical and Biophysical Systems at FZU has built an environment that is supporting the establishment of new and progressive groups of physicists whose scientific focus overlaps with different disciplines. Therefore, it is an ideal place to establish a Dioscuri Centre with a broad interdisciplinary scope," adds Barbora Špačková.

"I am really happy that the Division of Optics is able to attract top scientists from renowned institutes from all over the world, such as Barbora Špačková, and that we can offer them an attractive environment iand interesting conditions for further development. The establishment of the Dioscuri Centre fits perfectly into the strategic development of the division, which includes interdisciplinarity, diversity of research, and work with young talented people," said the Head of the Division of Optics, Alexandr Dejneka.

Barbora Špačková is an author of the nanofluidic scattering microscopy method and the co-founder of Envue, a Swedish spin-off company commercializing this method. In 2022, she was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie postdoctoral fellowship, which allowed her to return to the Czech Republic after five years at Swedish research institutions (Chalmers University and the University of Gothenburg) and pursue her research at FZU.

Dioscuri Centres are jointly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. A total of five centres are planned to be open in the Czech Republic. The first three centres, two at the Institute of Physics and one in Brno at Masaryk University were announced this year. A second call for applications, also open to scientists from all disciplines and from all over the world, is planned for 2024.