New Publication in Science Advances!


Superconducting nanowires serve as highly sensitive detectors for single protein ions at low energy

Marcel Strauß, Armin Shayeghi, Martin F. X. Mauser, Philipp Geyer, Tim Kostersitz, Julia Salapa, Olexandr Dobrovolskiy, Steven Daly, Jan Commandeur, Yong Hua, Valentin Köhler, Marcel Mayor, Jad Benserhir, Claudio Bruschini, Edoardo Charbon, Mario Castaneda, Monique Gevers, Ronan Gourgues, Nima Kalhor, Andreas Fognini and Markus Arndt

Science Advances 9, 48 (2023), DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adj2801

What has been achieved?

The detection, identification, and analysis of macromolecules is interesting in many areas of life sciences, including protein research, diagnostics, and analytics. Mass spectrometry is often used as a detection system – a method that typically separates charged particles (ions) according to their mass-to-charge-ratio and measures the intensity of the signals generated by a detector. This provides information about the relative abundance of the different types of ions and therefore the composition of the sample. However, conventional detectors have only been able to achieve high detection efficiency and spatial resolution for particles with high impact energy – a limitation that has now been overcome by an international team of researchers using superconducting nanowire detectors.

In the current study, a European consortium coordinated by the University of Vienna, with partners in Delft (Single Quantum), Lausanne (EPFL), Almere (MSVision) and Basel (University), demonstrates superconducting nanowires as excellent detectors for protein beams in quadrupole mass spectrometry. The protein ions are electrosprayed and filtered by a quadrupole mass spectrometer. "If we now use superconducting nanowires instead of conventional detectors, we can even detect proteins with low kinetic energy," explains project leader Markus Arndt from the Quantum Nanophysics Group at the Faculty of Physics at the University of Vienna. This is made possible by a special material property (superconductivity) of the nanowire detectors.

The key to this detection method is that nanowires enter a superconducting state at very low temperatures, in which they lose their electrical resistance and allow lossless current flow. Excitation of the superconducting nanowires by incoming ions causes a return to the normal conducting state (quantum transition). The change in the electrical properties of the nanowires during this transition is interpreted as a detection signal. "With the nanowire detectors we use," says first author Marcel Strauß, "we exploit the quantum transition from the superconducting to the normal conducting state and can thus outperform conventional ion detectors by up to three orders of magnitude.”

Indeed, nanowire detectors have a remarkable quantum yield at exceptionally low impact energies – and redefine the possibilities of conventional detectors: "In addition, a mass spectrometer adapted with such a quantum sensor can not only distinguish molecules according to their mass to charge state, but also classify them according to their kinetic energy. This improves the detection and offers the possibility for have better spatial resolution," says Marcel Strauß. Nanowire detectors can find new applications in mass spectrometry, molecular spectroscopy, molecular deflectometry, or quantum interferometry of molecules, where high efficiency and good resolution are required, especially at low impact energy.


Single Quantum is leading the research on superconducting nanowire detectors, the experts from EPFL-Lausanne provide the ultracold electronics, MSVISION is a specialist in mass spectrometry, and the experts from the University of Basel are responsible for chemical synthesis and protein functionalization. The University of Vienna brings together all the components with its expertise in quantum optics, molecular beams and superconductivity.


The work was funded by the European Commission as part of the SuperMaMa project (860713), which is dedicated to research into superconducting detectors for mass spectrometry and molecular analysis.

Funding from the Gordon & Betty Moore Foundation (10771) contributed to the analysis of the modified proteins.

Link to the Explainer Video of the SuperMaMa project!

Link to project Interviews and Animated Videos!

Press Release: Quantum physics: Superconducting Nanowires Detect Single Protein Ions



Counting single proteins with a superconducting nanowire. The background and nanowire are altered in Photoshop with the Generative Fill AI. (Human Insulin PDB:3I40)