Metal Ion Sensors for Medicinal and Environmental Applications


Metal cations like Zn(II), Cu and K(I) play a raft of important signalling roles in our bodies; others such as Hg(II), Cd(II) and Pb(II) are toxic pollutants in the environment. We are developing new sensors to selectively image these ions inside cells (as tools for diagnosing diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease) and in the environment. Now we want to increase the responsiveness of our sensors by (i) attaching them to optical fibres, and (ii) incorporating fluorescent nanoparticles.


Associate Professor Peter Rutledge, Professor John Canning, Associate Professor Matthew Todd

Research Location

School of Chemistry

Program Type



We have recently demonstrated the potential of the copper-catalysed azide/alkyne cycloaddition reaction for linking a metal-binding motif to a fluorescent reporter and thereby generate fluorescent sensors for metal ions – for examples see DOI: 10.1002/chem.201002477 or DOI: 10.1039/C0CS00143K. Using this approach we have linked the azamacrocycle cyclam to a range of fluorescent dyes, creating highly responsive and selective sensors for zinc(II), copper(II) and mercury(II). This project will extend our previous work in two directions: the first goal is to link the metal-ion sensors to bio-targeting functionality (specific oligopeptide and oligosaccharide motifs) and thus use them to monitor metal ion concentrations in specific cellular environments; the second goal is to increase the responsiveness of our sensors by attaching them to optical fibres or incorporating them into fluorescent nanoparticles to enhance sensitivity.

Additional Information

Working on this project, you will use organic synthesis, spectroscopic techniques including 1H and 13C NMR, IR and mass spectroscopy and chromatography. You will also have the opportunity to develop further skills in coordination chemistry, crystallography, nanotechnology and photonics. Prior experience in one or more of these areas would be an advantage but is not required.Laboratory costs (chemicals, consumables, spectroscopy) will be covered through existing funding in the group, however direct funding for fees or scholarships is not currently available from within the group. Australian and New Zealand citizens should apply for an Australian Postgraduate Award, International Students should apply for scholarship funding through the International Office and Science Faculty schemes.

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Keywords :click reaction, fluorescence, macrocycles, molecular probes, sensors, synthesis

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 1550

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