ToF-SIMS and Machine Learning for Single-Pixel Molecular Discrimination of an Acrylate Polymer Microarray

By April 2nd, 2020

Scientists at Nottingham University, La Trobe University and the RAMP Centre are continuing to develop new Machine Learning techniques to extract useful information that would likely go unnoticed without the aid of complex computer algorithms. In this work our amazing Phd candidate Mr Wil Gardner and the team have developed an algorithm which reduces complex hyperspectral data into a single reconstituted colour map and have used this to analyse polymer microarrays that are being used to discover polymers for a number of biomedical applications.

ToF-SIMS and Machine Learning for Single-Pixel Molecular Discrimination of an Acrylate Polymer Microarray
Wil Gardner, Andrew L. Hook, Morgan R. Alexander, Davide Ballabio, Suzanne M. Cutts, Benjamin W. Muir, and Paul J. Pigram*


Combinatorial approaches to materials discovery offer promising potential for the rapid development of novel polymer systems. Polymer microarrays enable the high-throughput comparison of material physical and chemical properties—such as surface chemistry and properties like cell attachment or protein adsorption—in order to identify correlations that can progress materials development. A challenge for this approach is to accurately discriminate between highly similar polymer chemistries or identify heterogeneities within individual polymer spots. Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry (ToF-SIMS) offers unique potential in this regard, capable of describing the chemistry associated with the outermost layer of a sample with high spatial resolution and chemical sensitivity. However, this comes at the cost of generating large scale, complex hyperspectral imaging data sets. We have demonstrated previously that machine learning is a powerful tool for interpreting ToF-SIMS images, describing a method for color-tagging the output of a self-organizing map (SOM). This reduces the entire hyperspectral data set to a single reconstructed color similarity map, in which the spectral similarity between pixels is represented by color similarity in the map. Here, we apply the same methodology to a ToF-SIMS image of a printed polymer microarray for the first time. We report complete, single-pixel molecular discrimination of the 70 unique homopolymer spots on the array while also identifying intraspot heterogeneities thought to be related to intermixing of the polymer and the pHEMA coating. In this way, we show that the SOM can identify layers of similarity and clusters in the data, both with respect to polymer backbone structures and their individual side groups. Finally, we relate the output of the SOM analysis with fluorescence data from polymer–protein adsorption studies, highlighting how polymer performance can be visualized within the context of the global topology of the data set.