Nature is a master builder. Using a bottom-up approach, nature takes tiny atoms and, through chemical bonding, makes crystalline materials, like diamonds, silicon and even table salt. In all of them, the properties of the crystals depend upon the type and arrangement of atoms within the crystalline lattice.
Now, a team of Northwestern University scientists has learned how to top nature by building crystalline materials from nanoparticles and DNA, the same material that defines the genetic code for all living organisms.
Using nanoparticles as "atoms" and DNA as "bonds," the scientists have learned how to create crystals with the particles arranged in the same types of atomic lattice configurations as some found in nature, but they also have built completely new structures that have no naturally occurring mineral counterpart.
The basic design rules the Northwestern scientists have established for this approach to nanoparticle assembly promise the possibility of creating a variety of new materials that could be useful in catalysis, electronics, optics, biomedicine and energy generation, storage and conversion technologies.
The new method and design rules for making crystalline materials from nanostructures and DNA will be published Oct. 14 by the journal Science.
"We are building a new periodic table of sorts," said Professor Chad A. Mirkin, who led the research. "Using these new design rules and nanoparticles as 'artificial atoms,' we have developed modes of controlled crystallization that are, in many respects, more powerful than the way nature and chemists make crystalline materials from atoms. By controlling the size, shape, type and location of nanoparticles within a given lattice, we can make completely new materials and arrangements of particles, not just what nature dictates."
Mirkin is the George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and professor of
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