Philipp Kukura

2019 United Kingdom Award Winner — Faculty

Philipp Kukura

Current Position:
Professor of Chemistry

University of Oxford

Physical Chemistry

Recognized for: Pioneering efforts in the development and application of optical methodologies to detect, characterize and measure the molecular mass of individual biomolecules

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Molecular Biophysics, Microscopy, Spectroscopy


MChem, University of Oxford
PhD, UC Berkeley (Advisor: Prof. Richard A. Mathies)
Postdoc, ETH Zurich (Advisor, Prof. Vahid Sandoghdar)

The majority of cellular processes rely on the interactions proteins make with themselves and other biomolecules. These interactions thus not only form the basis of physiological processes, but are also responsible for the changes that ultimately lead to disease. Structural and dynamic heterogeneity, however, has been a key challenge to our ability to reveal the associated mechanisms, one that could be addressed by suitable approaches operating in a quantitative fashion at the single molecule level.

Prof. Kukura has been redefining what we can see, and thereby study using light in the context of biological structure and dynamics. His group has been pushing the boundaries in terms of the sensitivity of light microscopes through the development of interferometric scattering microscopy (iSCAT), being the first to demonstrate label-free optical detection of single biomolecules without the use of cavities or plasmonic structures. These developments ultimately led to the discovery of a new, third method for measuring mass, based on the detection and quantification of light scattering from single molecules in solution. This technology is likely to impact heavily on how we characterize processes that take place on the nanoscale in general. Most importantly, however, it has the potential to enable universally applicable and quantitative biomolecular science and thereby transform how we study life, understand what goes wrong in disease, and design, characterize and optimize avenues for intervention.

"What drives me is a fundamental desire to see and measure things that have been thought and accepted to be beyond the reach of experiment. I consider myself extremely lucky to work with bright, motivated and extremely hard-working people who share this enthusiasm. They keep proving me wrong in terms of what I think is achievable, which ultimately enables the science that we do. I am extremely grateful to have been chosen at the Blavatnik Awards UK Laureate in Chemistry."

Key Publications:

  1. J. O. Arroyo, J. Andrecka, K. M. Spillane, N. Billington, Y. Takagi, J. R. Sellers, P. Kukura. Label-free, all-optical detection, imaging, and tracking of a single protein. Nano Letters, 2014.

  2. J. O. Arroyo, P. Kukura. Non-fluorescent schemes for singlet-molecule detection, imaging and spectroscopy. Nature Photonics, 2016.

  3. D. Cole, G. Young, A. Weigel, P. Kukura. Label-free single molecule imaging with numerical aperture-shaped interferometric scattering microscopy. ACS Photonics, 2017.

  4. G. Young, N. Hundt, D. Cole, A. Fineberg, J. Andrecka, A. Tyler, A. Olerinyova, A. Ansari, E. G. Marklund, M. P. Collier, S. A. Chandler, O. Tkachenko, J. Allen, M. Crispin, N. Billington, Y. Takagi, J. R. Sellers, C. Eichmann, P. Selenko, L. Frey, R. Riek, M. R. Galpin, W. B. Struwe, J. L. P. Benesch, P. Kukura. Quantitative mass imaging of single biological macromolecules. Science, 2018.

Other Honors:

2018Klung-Wilhelmy Science Award (Chemistry)
2018Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK, Chemistry Finalist
2017Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award
2017EBSA Young Investigator Award and Medal
2015Royal Society of Chemistry Marlow Medal
2011Royal Society of Chemistry Harrison-Meldola Award


In the Media:

Science - Weighing one protein with light

Science Translational Medicine - A new method to weigh biomolecules

Nature Photonics - Measuring molecular mass with light

Nature Methods - Weighing single proteins with light

C&E News - Scattered light weighs single biomolecules

Chemistry & Industry - Weighing proteins with light