Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Penn Researchers Develop Biological Circuit Components, New Microscope Technique for Measuring Them

Electrical engineers have long been toying with the idea of designing biological molecules that can be directly integrated into electronic circuits.

University of Pennsylvania researchers have developed a way to form these structures so they can operate in open-air environments, and, more important, have developed a new microscope technique that can measure the electrical properties of these and similar devices.

The research was conducted by Dawn Bonnell, Trustee Chair Professor and director of the Nano/Bio Interface Center, graduate students Kendra Kathan-Galipeau and Maxim Nikiforov and postdoctoral fellow Sanjini Nanayakkara, all of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

They collaborated with assistant professor Bohdana Discher of the Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and Paul A. O’Brien, a graduate student in Penn's Biotechnology Masters Program.

Their work was published in the journal ACS Nano.

The development involves artificial proteins, bundles of peptide helices with a photoactive molecule inside. These proteins are arranged on electrodes, which are common feature of circuits that transmit electrical charges between metallic and non-metallic elements. When light is shined on the proteins, they convert photons into electrons and pass them to the electrode.

“It's a similar mechanism to what happens when plants absorb light, except in that case the electron is used for some chemistry that creates energy for the plant,” Bonnell said. “In this case, we want to use the electron in electrical circuits.”

Similar peptide assemblies had been studied in solution before by several groups and had been tested to show that they indeed react to light. But there was no way to quantify their ambient electrical properties, particularly capacitance, the amount of electrical charge the assembly holds.

“It’s necessary to understand these kinds of properties in the molecules in order to make devices out of them. We've been studying silicon for 40 years, so we know what happens to electrons there,” Bonnell said. “We didn’t know what happens to electrons on dry electrodes with these proteins; we didn't even know if they would remain photoactive when attached to an electrode.”

Designing circuits and devices with silicon is inherently easier than with proteins. The electrical properties of a large chunk of a single element can be measured and then scaled down, but complex molecules like these proteins cannot be scaled up. Diagnostic systems that could measure their properties with nanometer sensitivity simply did not exist.

The researchers therefore needed to invent both a new way of a measuring these properties and a controlled way of making the photovoltaic proteins that would resemble how they might eventually be incorporated into devices in open-air, everyday environments, rather than swimming in a chemical solution.

To solve the first problem, the team developed a new kind of atomic force microscope technique, known as torsional resonance nanoimpedance microscopy. Atomic force microscopes operate by bringing an extremely narrow silicon tip very close to a surface and measuring how the tip reacts, providing a spatial sensitivity of a few nanometers down to individual atoms.

“What we've done in our version is to use a metallic tip and put an oscillating electric field on it. By seeing how electrons react to the field, we’re able to measure more complex interactions and more complex properties, such as capacitance,” Bonnell said.

Bohdana Discher’s group designed the self-assembling proteins much as they had done before but took the additional step of stamping them onto sheets of graphite electrodes. This manufacturing principle and the ability to measure the resulting devices could have a variety of applications.

“Photovoltaics — solar cells — are perhaps the easiest to imagine, but where this work is going in the shorter term is biochemical sensors,” Bonnell said.

Instead of reacting to photons, proteins could be designed to produce a charge when in the presence of a certain toxins, either changing color or acting as a circuit element in a human-scale gadget.

This research was supported by the Nano/Bio Interface Center and the National Science Foundation.

Evan Lerner | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Neutrons pave the way to accelerated production of lithium-ion cells
20.03.2018 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Monocrystalline silicon thin film for cost-cutting solar cells with 10-times faster growth rate fabricated
16.03.2018 | Tokyo Institute of Technology

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

TRAPPIST-1 planets provide clues to the nature of habitable worlds

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

The search for dark matter widens

21.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>