Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New equation predicts molecular forces in hydrophobic interactions

12.10.2011
New equation developed by UCSB chemical engineers solves the mystery of forces between water-repelling and water-attracting molecules that are critical to industrial and medical applications

The physical model to describe the hydrophobic interactions of molecules has been a mystery that has challenged scientists and engineers since the 19th century. Hydrophobic interactions are central to explaining why oil and water don't mix, how proteins are structured, and what holds biological membranes together. Chemical engineering researchers at UC Santa Barbara have developed a novel method to study these forces at the atomic level, and have for the first time defined a mathematical equation to measure a substance's hydrophobic character.

"This discovery represents a breakthrough that is a culmination of decades of research," says Professor Jacob Israelachvili. "The equation is intended to be a tool for scientists to begin quantifying and predicting molecular and surface forces between organic substances in water."

Using a light-responsive surfactant – a soap-like molecule related to fats and lipids – the researchers developed an innovative technique to measure or change the forces between layers of the molecule in water by using beams of UV or visible light. The result is a general equation that applies to even more complicated systems, such as cellular membranes or proteins.

"We were fortunate to find the right combination of experimental methods and theory," said Brad Chmelka, UCSB Chemical Engineering professor and co-author of the study. "The keys to our research were using a light-responsive surfactant molecule, a means of measuring these delicate surface forces, and applying knowledge of what to look for."

The highly-sensitive instrument they used to sense these molecular-level hydrophobic forces, called a surface forces apparatus, is a now-standard technique that was originally pioneered by Israelachili and colleagues in the 1970s.

"In basic chemistry, students learn about van der Waal forces – the weak forces that act between all molecules. That theory was developed more than 100 years ago," explains Professor Israelachvili.

"According to the van der Waals theory, however, oil and water shouldn't separate and surfactants shouldn't form membranes, but they do. There has been no proven theory to account for these special hydrophobic interactions. Such behaviors are crucial for life as we know it to exist."

Hydrophobic and hydrophilic interactions are central to the disciplines of chemistry, physics, and biology that have fueled modern developments in industries from detergents to pharmaceuticals and new biotechnologies. The new equation is expected to impact applications in water filtration, membrane separations, biomedical research, gene therapy methods, biofuel production, and food chemistry.

Virus and disease propagation in the human body are directly linked to hydrophobic properties on a cellular level. One of the problems related to chemotherapy treatments for cancer is being able to direct a drug specifically to cancer cells, instead of the entire body. Israelachvili and his colleagues foresee their discovery having an impact in biomedical research that attempts to understand and treat diseases.

"Cell membranes are complex and discriminating structures, allowing the transmission of various signals into cells and mediating specific interactions with bacteria and viruses," said Jean Chin, Ph.D., who oversees membrane structure grants at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. "This study, by enhancing our understanding of the role played by hydrophobic forces in membrane dynamics, will expand what we know about membrane structure and function, as well as microbial infection pathways."

"Understanding how water and oil-like substances interact is enormously important for explaining the properties and functions of many biological and engineering materials," says Dr. Robert Wellek, Program Director in the Directorate for Engineering at the National Science Foundation. "The UCSB and USC teams have elegantly combined concepts from synthetic chemistry, photophysics, and chemical engineering to unravel and quantify the elusive hydrophobic interaction. NSF is very pleased that its grantees have been able to contribute important fundamental knowledge in this important area."

Details of the research were published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their research was made possible by support from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Procter & Gamble Company.

"We've known for a long time what we were aiming for. It's a bit like climbing a mountain," said Professor Israelachvili. "The whole thing started at the very bottom. I've been searching for the keys to this interaction for thirty years. We are thrilled with the findings, but it took a lot of steps over carefully chosen paths to get there."

Professor Jacob Israelachvili, Professor Bradley Chmelka, and Stephen Donaldson, Ph.D. student, are with the Department of Chemical Engineering at UCSB. Dr. Israelachvili is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and member of the U.S. National Academy of Science and the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. Dr. Israelachvili received his Ph.D. in Physics from University of Cambridge and joined UCSB in 1986. He was recently named by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers as one of the "100 Chemical Engineers of the Modern Era" for his achievement and leadership in the field.

Melissa Van De Werfhorst | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsb.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY

nachricht NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>