DNA: the building block of a new class of nanomaterials

For years, nanotechnologists have been captivated by the potential of quantum dots – semiconducting particles that can absorb and emit light efficiently and at custom-chosen wavelengths. Their true potential however, has been difficult to grasp because of the lack of a method to build higher-order structures. So until now, applications have been ‘limited’ to things like biological dyes and diode lasers, with many possible groundbreaking applications on the shelf.

But now, researchers from the University of Toronto have devised a method to engineer what they call ‘artificial molecules’ out of certain classes of nanoparticles. Their research focuses on the construction of so called light antennas, but the developed method can be used to construct a whole new class of materials with entirely new properties.

Specific DNA sequences only bind to its complementary sequence. The researchers have cleverly used this high degree of specificity as a means of assembly. By coating different classes of nanoparticles with certain sequences of DNA and then throwing them all together, nature takes its course and ‘self-assembles’ the light antennas.

The antennas are inspired by the photosynthetic apparatus in plants and absorb light and funnel it to a single site within their molecule-like complexes. This process makes photosynthesis in plants as effective as it is and thus might be an essential part of creating artificial plant leaves as a means of power generation.

© Jorn van Dooren | www.bitsofscience.org

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