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Nature Teaching Scientists to Capture the Light More Efficiently

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  • Aug 06, 2021

Researchers have potentially created and generated a new system which has the ability to capture the light energy like never before and the inspiration comes from nature itself. The research was carried out in Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in collaboration with Washington State University. Together they have developed a highly efficient artificial light collection system which have the potential for future use in applications of photovoltaics and energy bio imaging. The research has provided a basis for overcoming the difficult hurdles for producing hierarchically practical organic-inorganic hybrid materials. These materials generally have a specific atomic arrangement which is essential in providing many exceptional functions and characters such as strength and toughness to the material. Researchers have really worked hard on this to make the outcome successful.

Although these types of hierarchically structured materials are extremely difficult to manufacture, Chen's multidisciplinary team of scientists have combined their expert knowledge to synthesize a molecule with a defined sequence to form such a specific arrangement. The researchers have created a modified protein-like structure, a so-called peptoid, and attached a precise cage-like structure based on silicate (abbreviated POSS) to one end. Under the right conditions, these molecules can self-assemble themselves into perfectly shaped crystals made from 2D nanosheets. This leads to creation of another layer of cell membrane-like complexity, similar to that found in natural hierarchical structures, while maintaining the high stability and improved mechanical properties of individual molecules. “As a material scientist, nature gives me a lot of inspiration,” says Chen. “Whenever I want to design a molecule to do something specific, such as a vehicle for drug delivery, I almost always find a natural example to model my designs later on” Chen further added.

After successfully fabricating these POSS peptoid nanocrystals and demonstrating their unique properties, including high programmability, the team is now seeing to take advantage of these properties. They have programmed the material to have specific functional group at specific locations and intermolecular distances so that these nanocrystals combine strength and stability.