By Jager Robinson and Nicholas Kalantzopoulos
Gold nanoparticles can be successfully rearranged to form a diamond superstructure, a team of scientists found.
The discovery, made at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and published in Science Weekly on Feb. 4, opens the door for the team to develop materials that have never been seen before. In theory, they say, the research could lead to creating materials that are as light as cotton but are as durable and strong as diamonds.
“In the future [we have] no limitations, we can make anything and we can make something which nature doesn’t even [make],” Oleg Gang, the lead scientist on his team at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN) at Brookhaven National Lab, said.
This is only the first step in a long process, Gang said. He believes, however, that rearranging the particles into the structure diamond was the correct choice.
“Diamond is sort of proof that the process works,” Gang said. “The problem is [that] diamond has a lot of free space, so once you try to put it together, you get a structure that has much less empty space.”
Diamond, at a nano-level, is actually a very open structure. The particles are relatively far apart from each other, compared to other materials. Gang and his team have found a way around that with DNA origami.
DNA origami is the process to take individual strands of DNA and attach them to these nanocages. These cages then trap the gold nanoparticles and are guided by the DNA into a new structure.
“Since [we] developed [this] technique, [It] has been widely exploited for various applications,” Wenyan Liu, author of the research paper and member of the team for nearly four years, said. The applications include drug delivery systems, sensors, and molecular computing.
DNA Origami has been studied by scientists throughout the country in the last year, and Carlos Castro, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State University, is on the leading edge. Castro went further into his theories in a recent Global Data piece.
“Nature has produced incredibly complex molecular machines at the nanoscale, and a major goal of bio-nanotechnology is to reproduce their function synthetically,” Castro said. “I’m pretty excited by this idea.”
Liu added that he believes this innovation in technique allows for exciting possibilities.
“We also anticipate that our study will enable the practical realization of novel optical materials that have been awaiting discovery for a quarter of a century,” Liu said.
The optical discoveries remain to be seen but what Liu is saying is that because diamond presents itself as optically isotropic, which means diamond is uniform throughout, making materials into this structure could potentially lend itself to various optical innovations such as 3D photonic materials for optical computers which, in theory, are much faster than current computers.
BNL is one of 11 national laboratories under the Department of Energy’s umbrella, which means that the lab is subject to fiscal changes every year.
In a statement issued during President Obama’s announcement of the 2017 fiscal budget, the President discussed the plan for the US Department of Energy saying that their budget will rise to $14.6 billion in 2017, an increase of nearly $900 million from 2016.
It is unclear what portion of that will go to BNL and then to CFN but Gang says he isn’t worried about money right now, and he is focused on continuing his research.