Sponges inspire self-assembly of nanostructures

Longtime Foresight participating member Richard Smith brings our attention to a piece at Technology Review by Kevin Bullis, the second page of which I was unable to access online (could only get a BMW ad instead), so the last paragraph below is taken from a paper printout (Update: second page is working now):

One of the ongoing goals of nanotechnology is to easily and inexpensively create high-performance materials structured at the nanoscale. And one of the most promising strategies is to attempt to mimic nature’s remarkable ability to self-assemble complex shapes with nanoscale precision. Now researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), using clues gleaned from marine sponges, have developed a method of synthesizing semiconducting materials with useful structures and novel electronic properties. The first applications could be ways to make materials for more powerful batteries and highly efficient solar cells at a lower price.

“We are accessing structures that in some cases had never been achieved before. And in some cases we’re discovering electronic properties that had never been known before for that class of materials,” says Daniel Morse, professor of molecular genetics and biochemistry at UCSB, who led the project. The method works with a wide variety of materials. So far, he says, the group has made “30 different kinds of oxides, hydroxides, and phosphates”…

Ultimately, the payoff from Morse’s work studying biological mechanisms may be more than novel thin films, says Aravinda Kini, U.S. Department of Energy materials science and engineering programs manager. Although the current process works only for thin films, further understanding of the catalysis and templating methods of sponges could one day make it possible to fabricate complex machine parts by piecing together molecules. “It’s still a dream, but imagine the blade of an aircraft engine being assembled from the bottom up, without any defects, without any very expensive fabrication methods, he says. “That’s what is possible. That’s what people are dreaming about.”

We sure are! And it’s good to see progress being made. —Christine

Leave a comment