Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Marine sponges provide model for nanoscale materials production

26.02.2004


"Nature was nano before nano was cool," stated Henry Fountain in a recent New York Times article on the proliferation of nanotechnology research projects. No one is more aware of this fact of nature than Dan Morse of the University of California, Santa Barbara. His research groups have been studying the ways that nature builds ocean organisms at the nanoscale for over ten years.



For example, they have studied the abalone shell for its high-performance, super-resistant, composite mineral structure.

Now they are now looking to learn new biotechnological routes to make high performance electronic and optical materials.


"We are now learning how to harness the biomolecular mechanism that directs the nanofabrication of silica in living organisms," says Morse. "This is to learn to direct the synthesis of photovoltaic and semiconductor nanocrystals of titanium dioxide, gallium oxide and other semiconductors –– materials with which nature has never built structures before."

Most recently, Morse and his students have made advances in copying the way marine sponges construct skeletal glass needles at the nanoscale. The research group is using nature’s example to produce semiconductors and photovoltaic materials in an environmentally benign way –– as they report in a recent issue of the journal Chemistry of Materials.

"Sponges are abundant right here off-shore and they provide a uniquely tractable model system that opens the paths to the discovery of the molecular mechanism that governs biological synthesis from silicon," says Morse. "This sponge produces copious quantities of fiberglass needles made from silicon and oxygen."

Morse directs the new Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies, a UCSB-led initiative funded by a grant of $50 million from the Army Research Office, which operates in partnership with MIT and Caltech. He also directs the Marine Biotechnology Center of UCSB’s Marine Science Institute.

The work is particularly exciting, according to Morse, because silicon has been called the most important element on the planet technologically –– silicon chips are fundamental components of computers, telecommunications devices, and in combination with oxygen forms fiber optics and drives other high-tech applications.

He explains that his research group discovered that the center of the sponge’s fine glass needles contains a filament of protein that controls the synthesis of the needles. By cloning and sequencing the DNA of the gene that codes for this protein, they discovered that the protein is an enzyme that acts as a catalyst, a surprising discovery. Never before had a protein been found to serve as a catalyst to promote chemical reactions to form the glass or a rock-like material of a biomineral. From that discovery, the research group learned that this enzyme actively promotes the formation of the glass while simultaneously serving as a template to guide the shape of the growing mineral (glass) that it produces.

"Most recently in this research, which is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant Program and the Department of Energy, we’ve discovered that these activities can be applied to the synthesis of valuable semiconductors, metal oxides such as titanium and gallium that have photovoltaic and semiconductor properties," says Morse. The group is using a synthetic mimic of the enzymes found in marine sponges.

These discoveries are significant because they represent a low temperature, biotechnological, catalytic route to the nanostructural fabrication of valuable materials. The research group is now translating these discoveries into practical engineering.

Currently these materials are produced at very high temperatures in high vacuums, using caustic chemicals. With these latest discoveries, scientists have found that nanotechnology can copy nature and produce materials in a much more environmentally friendly way than the current state-of-the-art.


Note: Dan Morse can be reached by e-mail at : d_morse@lifesci.ucsb.edu, by telephone at : 805-893-3157; or through his assistant Paul Kirsch, at telephone : 805-893-8982 or by e-mail at: kirsch@lifesci.ucsb.edu

Gail Gallessich | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsb.edu/

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells
11.12.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires
07.12.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht - Zentrum für Material- und Küstenforschung

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Plasmonic biosensors enable development of new easy-to-use health tests

14.12.2017 | Health and Medicine

New type of smart windows use liquid to switch from clear to reflective

14.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

BigH1 -- The key histone for male fertility

14.12.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>