Researchers attack 100-year-old puzzle, learn how a single layer of particles can pack on the surface of a sphere
ARLINGTON, Va. - In a discovery that is likely to impact fields as diverse as medicine and nanomanufacture, researchers have determined how nature arranges charged particles in a thin layer around a sphere. The leap forward in understanding this theoretical problem may help reveal structural chinks in the outer armor of viruses and bacteria (revealing potential drug targets) and guide engineers designing new molecules.
On a flat surface, particles that repel each other will arrange themselves to create a stable energy state, eventually settling at vertices within a lattice of identical triangles much like billiard balls at the start of a game.
Yet, for nearly a century, researchers studying spherical structures have known that a flat lattice cannot be simply wrapped around a sphere because the lattice of perfect triangles breaks down. Since as early as 1904, when Nobel prize-winning physicist J.J. Thomson theorized about electron shells in atoms, researchers have wondered what structure the thin web of particles would choose, from among myriad possibilities, if wrapped around a sphere.
In the March 14 issue of the journal Science, researchers describe a major breakthrough in the puzzle, supported by experiments with water droplets and tiny, self-assembling beads. The researchers demonstrate how spherical crystals compensate for the curved surface on which they exist by developing "scars," defects that allow the beads to pack into place.
NSF-supported scientists Mark Bowick of Syracuse University, David Nelson of Harvard University, and Alex Travesset of Iowa State University and Ames National Laboratory designed the study with concepts they had developed earlier.
"The theoretical work from our laboratories, and others, suggested that crystals on a curved surface would pack unusually, in a way not found in flat crystals," said Bowick, although the packing depends upon the size of the crystal relative to the surface particles.
The researchers were joined by experimentalists Andreas Bausch and Michael Nikolaides of Technische Universität München in Germany and Angelo Cacciuto of the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in the Netherlands, along with NSF-supported researcher David Weitz and his research team at Harvard University. With experimentation, the team was able to test, and ultimately support, their models of how spherical crystals form in various natural settings.
"This studys interplay between theory and experiment reveals fascinating insights," said Daryl Hess, the NSF program officer who oversees support for the project. "This is curiosity driven research - from the structure of biological systems to the venerable old problem framed before quantum mechanics - these findings will likely have impact across many fields of science."
Unlike previous approaches using computer models to determine how the charged particles arrange themselves, the new research involves experimentation, instead targeting the simple defects in the crystal structure and determining how the particles and defects find their most stable arrangement.
To create the spherical crystals, the researchers coaxed polystyrene beads (only one micron in diameter) to congregate around and completely cover tiny balls of water (tens of microns in diameter) suspended in an oily mixture.
The team then used a light microscope to view the spheres and digitally traced images of the crystalline patterns. Whereas a flat crystal pattern would consist of a regular pattern of adjacent, equilateral triangles, the researchers found the triangular pattern of the spherical crystal was disrupted and squeezed due to defects (a bead would have five or seven close neighbors instead of the six it would in a perfect lattice).
"We found that curvature can fundamentally change the arrangement of particles on the surface," said Bowick.
Smaller spheres had twelve isolated defects, but larger spheres showed jagged strings of defects the researchers dubbed scars. The scars are a coalescence of simple defects in the lattice pattern that begin and end within the crystal, unlike similar structures in flat crystals which begin and end at crystal surfaces. The researchers observed that the scars erupt in a predictable way based upon the size of the sphere and consistent with the predictions of their theory.
"These structures are a signature of the curved geometry and do not depend on the details of the particle interactions on the surface," said Bowick. "The scars should appear in any type of spherical packing or crystallization."
In addition to confirmation of the researchers approach, the new findings also shed light on how such structures form and persist in nature. Some viruses, such as the monkey cancer virus SV40, and some bacteria have similar spherical structures - knowledge of scar formation may reveal how to target chemical reactions at those sites, potentially leading to treatments for similar pathogens.
The research also sheds light on some of the most prevalent structures in nanoscale science and engineering, the fullerenes. Knowing how defects can arise within nanostructures may help researchers devise better methods to create fullerenes or other large molecules with desirable characteristics.
Josh Chamot | NSF News
Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm
23.03.2018 | Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics
Drug or duplicate?
23.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Festkörperphysik IAF
Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.
The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...
An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...
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...
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...
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...
23.03.2018 | Event News
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences
23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy