Their work is the latest development in the push to develop self-assembling nanoscale materials that mimic the intricacy and functionality of nature's handiwork, but which are rugged enough to withstand harsh conditions such as heat and dryness.
Although still early in the development stage, their research could lead to new applications that combine the best of both worlds. Perhaps they'll be used as scaffolds to guide the construction of nanoscale wires and other structures. Or perhaps they'll be used to develop drug-delivery vehicles that target disease at the molecular scale, or to develop molecular sensors and sieve-like devices that separate molecules from one another.
Specifically, the scientists created the conditions for synthetic polymers called polypeptoids to assemble themselves into ever more complicated structures: first into sheets, then into stacks of sheets, which in turn roll up into double helices that resemble a rope measuring only 600 nanometers in diameter (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter).
"This hierarchichal self assembly is the hallmark of biological materials such as collagen, but designing synthetic structures that do this has been a major challenge," says Ron Zuckermann, who is the Facility Director of the Biological Nanostructures Facility in Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry.
In addition, unlike normal polymers, the scientists can control the atom-by-atom makeup of the ropy structures. They can also engineer helices of specific lengths and sequences. This "tunability" opens the door for the development of synthetic structures that mimic biological materials' ability to carry out incredible feats of precision, such as homing in on specific molecules.
"Nature uses exact length and sequence to develop highly functional structures. An antibody can recognize one form of a protein over another, and we're trying to mimic this," adds Zuckermann.
Zuckermann and colleagues conducted the research at The Molecular Foundry, which is one of the five DOE Nanoscale Science Research Centers premier national user facilities for interdisciplinary research at the nanoscale. Joining him were fellow Berkeley Lab scientists Hannah Murnen, Adrianne Rosales, Jonathan Jaworski, and Rachel Segalman. Their research was published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The scientists worked with chains of bioinspired polymers called a peptoids. Peptoids are structures that mimic peptides, which nature uses to form proteins, the workhorses of biology. Instead of using peptides to build proteins, however, the scientists are striving to use peptoids to build synthetic structures that behave like proteins.
The team started with a block copolymer, which is a polymer composed of two or more different monomers.
"Simple block copolymers self assemble into nanoscale structures, but we wanted to see how the detailed sequence and functionality of bioinspired units could be used to make more complicated structures," says Rachel Segalman, a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab and professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at University of California, Berkeley.
With this in mind, the peptoid pieces were robotically synthesized, processed, and then added to a solution that fosters self assembly.
The result was a variety of self-made shapes and structures, with the braided helices being the most intriguing. The hierarchical structure of the helix, and its ability to be manipulated atom-by-atom, means that it could be used as a template for mineralizing complex structures on a nanometer scale.
"The idea is to assemble structurally complex structures at the nanometer scale with minimal input," says Hannah Murnen. She adds that the scientists next hope is to capitalize on the fact that they have minute control over the structure's sequence, and explore how very small chemical changes alter the helical structure.
Says Zuckermann, "These braided helices are one of the first forays into making atomically defined block copolymers. The idea is to take something we normally think of as plastic, and enable it to adopt structures that are more complex and capable of higher function, such as molecular recognition, which is what proteins do really well."
X-ray diffraction experiments used to characterize the structures were conducted at beamlines 8.3.1 and 7.3.3 of Berkeley Lab's Advanced Light Source, a national user facility that generates intense x-rays to probe the fundamental properties of substances. This work was supported in part by the Office of Naval Research.
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory managed by the University of California for the DOE Office of Science. Berkeley Lab provides solutions to the world's most urgent scientific challenges including sustainable energy, climate change, human health, and a better understanding of matter and force in the universe. It is a world leader in improving our lives through team science, advanced computing, and innovative technology.
Dan Krotz | EurekAlert!
Symbiotic bacteria: from hitchhiker to beetle bodyguard
28.04.2017 | Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis
28.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Grenzflächen- und Bioverfahrenstechnik IGB
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
28.04.2017 | Event News
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering
28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences
28.04.2017 | Life Sciences