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Transformable electronics solutions found in DNA

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Medical school scientists and their collaborators have used DNA to overcome an almost insurmountable obstacle to designing materials that will revolutionize electronics.

One possible outcome of such artificial materials could be superconductors, which have zero electrical resistance and allow electrons to flow unimpeded. This means that unlike current means of power transmission, it does not lose energy and does not generate heat. The development of superconductors that can be widely used at room temperature, rather than the extremely hot or cold temperatures that are now possible, will enable ultrafast computers, reduce the size of electronic devices, and enable high-speed trains to float. There is a possibility. Benefits include reduced magnets and energy usage.

One such superconductor was first proposed by Stanford University physicist William A. Little more than 50 years ago. Scientists spent decades trying to make it work, but even after validating the feasibility of his ideas, they were left with seemingly impossible challenges to overcome. to.

Dr. Edward H. Egelman, of UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, is a leader in the field of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), and he and Laetitia Bertrand, a graduate student in his lab, use cryo-electron microscopy. Used. EM imaging of this seemingly impossible project. “This shows that cryo-EM technology has great potential in materials research,” he said.

atomic level engineering

One possible way to realize Little’s ideas about superconductors would be to modify the lattice of carbon nanotubes, hollow cylinders of carbon so small that they need to be measured in nanometers (billionths of a meter). That’s it. However, there was a big challenge. Controlling the chemical reactions along the nanotube to assemble the lattice as precisely as needed to function as intended.

Egelman and his collaborators found the answer in the very building blocks of life. They took DNA, the genetic material that tells living cells how to behave, and used it to guide chemical reactions that overcome a major barrier to Little’s superconductors. In short, they used chemistry to perform strikingly precise structural engineering—construction at the level of individual molecules. The result was a lattice of carbon nanotubes assembled on demand for Little’s room-temperature superconductors.

“This study shows that by exploiting DNA sequence control over the spacing between adjacent reactive sites, ordered carbon nanotube modifications can be achieved,” Egelman said.

Although the lattice they constructed has not yet been tested for superconductivity, it provides proof of principle and has great potential for the future, the researchers say. It has emerged as a leading technique in biology for determining the atomic structure of assemblies, but has so far had far less impact on materials science,” Egelman said. Science is he one of the highest honors a scientist can receive.

Egelman and his colleagues say that a DNA-guided approach to lattice building could have a variety of useful research applications, especially in physics. But it also demonstrates the feasibility of making Little room-temperature superconductors. The scientists’ work, combined with other breakthroughs in superconductors in recent years, could ultimately transform technology as we know it and lead to a more “Star Trek” future.

“We often think of biology using the tools and techniques of physics, but our research shows that approaches being developed in biology can actually be applied to physics and engineering problems. ,” said Egelman. “This is what’s so exciting about science: we can’t predict where our research will lead.”

reference: Lin Z, Bertrand LC, De los Santos ZA, et al. DNA-guided lattice remodeling of carbon nanotubes. chemistry2022;377(6605):535-539. Doi: 10.1126/science.abo4628.

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