But one important class of proteins -- those stuck in the cell membranes -- has proven difficult to extract and study in 3-D crystals. Now an international team of scientists has developed a way to train such molecules to line up neatly on the surface of water in thin, tissue-like layers called nanofilms.
This technique should allow biochemists to better see and study the molecules and may lead to a new generation of molecular electronics and ultra-thin materials only one molecule thick.
"To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time aligned films less than a nanometer thick have been produced," say Iftach Nevo, a Marie Curie fellow at the University of Aarhus in Denmark, and Leslie Leiserowitz of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Together with their colleagues at these institutions and at the Max-Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Germany and Northwestern University in Evanston, they describe their research in the 14 April 2009 issue of The Journal of Chemical Physics, published by the American Institute of Physics.
One way of creating a nanofilm is to build it on the surface of water. First, the building blocks of the film are dissolved in a volatile substance. When a drop of this solution is splashed onto water, the solvent evaporates. The building blocks left floating on the water interact with each other and spontaneously come together -- like soap scum in a bathtub -- to create a thin crystalline layer.
The shortcoming of this technique is that the thin crystals in the film created will be a mess. Like a mob in a dance club, molecules floating on a surface tend to spin around chaotically with little regard for order. Different patches of molecules will point different, random directions. Because the orientation of these molecules dictates the electrical, magnetic, and optical properties of the final film, these jumbled regions are difficult to develop into useful technologies. They are also difficult to analyze using imaging techniques like X-ray diffraction.
To force the molecules to line up, the team blasted them with nanosecond laser pulses. These pulses create an electric field that interacts with the molecules, rotating them slowly. The electric field associated with these laser pulses is polarized, filtered so that all of the light waves vibrate in the same direction. Molecules caught in the laser feel most stable when they line up along this direction, a process analogous to the needle in a compass swinging to line up with the Earth's magnetic field. Eventually, this forms an aligned film with long range order.
The technique has not been completely perfected yet. Its success rate is about 30 percent, but the group believes that a better understanding of what is happening during the evaporation process and how the molecules interact with each other just before solidifying into a film will improve the efficiency.
When these molecules line up in a stable 2-D layer, their structures can be seen with X-ray imaging techniques normally used on 3-D crystals. "Alignment should enhance the X-ray diffraction intensity by more than two orders of magnitude allowing more detailed structure elucidations," say Nevo and Leiserowitz. The technique could be useful for studying molecules that cannot be easily crystallized in three dimensions -- cell membrane proteins are only one example.
It could also be useful for creating 3-D crystals with aligned structures. The 2-D layer can be used to seed the growth of these crystals, providing a stage on which this growth can be monitored using X-ray diffraction.
Another application is molecular electronics, like field-effect transistors, that require ordered molecules. Also interesting is an emerging class of solar cell technologies that are trying to copy nature by reverse-engineering photosynthesis. The ability to align the molecules in these devices will be important to their effectiveness, explains team member Tamar Seideman of Northwestern University.
Because the technique should work with a variety of molecules, it may pave the way for brand new kinds of self-assembling nanomaterials. "The international team that produced this paper is outstanding, and this is one of those papers that will likely spawn a number of novel applications that haven't been discovered yet," says Edward Castner of Rutgers University, Associate Editor for The Journal of Chemical Physics.
The article "Laser-Induced Self Assembly on Water Surfaces" by Iftach Nevo et al will be published online on April 14, 2009. Journalists can obtain a free copy by emailing email@example.com.
ABOUT THE JOURNAL
The Journal of Chemical Physics, published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), contains concise and definitive reports of significant research in methods and applications of chemical physics. Innovative research in traditional areas of chemical physics such as spectroscopy, kinetics, statistical mechanics, and quantum mechanics continue to be areas of interest to readers of JCP. In addition, newer areas such as polymers, materials, surfaces/interfaces, information theory, and systems of biological relevance are of increasing importance. See: http://jcp.aip.org.
The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is a not-for-profit membership corporation chartered in 1931 for the purpose of advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of physics and its application to human welfare. An umbrella organization for 10 Member Societies, AIP represents over 134,000 scientists, engineers and educators and is one of the world's largest publishers of physics journals. A total-solution provider of publishing services, AIP also publishes 12 journals of its own (many of which have the highest impact factors in their category), two magazines, and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Its online publishing platform Scitation (registered trademark) hosts more than 1,000,000 articles from more than 175 scholarly journals, as well as conference proceedings, and other publications of 25 learned society publishers.
Devin Powell | EurekAlert!
Water without windows: Capturing water vapor inside an electron microscope
13.12.2017 | Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) Graduate University
Columbia engineers create artificial graphene in a nanofabricated semiconductor structure
13.12.2017 | Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science
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...
Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...
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,...
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...
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...
11.12.2017 | Event News
08.12.2017 | Event News
07.12.2017 | Event News
13.12.2017 | Health and Medicine
13.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
13.12.2017 | Life Sciences