Two-dimensional, "sheet-like" nanostructures are commonly employed in biological systems such as cell membranes, and their unique properties have inspired interest in materials such as graphene. Now, Berkeley Lab scientists have made the largest two-dimensional polymer crystal self-assembled in water to date. This entirely new material mirrors the structural complexity of biological systems with the durable architecture needed for membranes or integration into functional devices.
These self-assembling sheets are made of peptoids, engineered polymers that can flex and fold like proteins while maintaining the robustness of manmade materials. Each sheet is just two molecules thick yet hundreds of square micrometers in area—akin to 'molecular paper' large enough to be visible to the naked eye. What's more, unlike a typical polymer, each building block in a peptoid nanosheet is encoded with structural 'marching orders'—suggesting its properties can be precisely tailored to an application. For example, these nanosheets could be used to control the flow of molecules, or serve as a platform for chemical and biological detection.
"Our findings bridge the gap between natural biopolymers and their synthetic counterparts, which is a fundamental problem in nanoscience," said Ronald Zuckermann, Director of the Biological Nanostructures Facility at the Molecular Foundry. "We can now translate fundamental sequence information from proteins to a non-natural polymer, which results in a robust synthetic nanomaterial with an atomically-defined structure."
The building blocks for peptoid polymers are cheap, readily available and generate a high yield of product, providing a huge advantage over other synthesis techniques. Zuckermann, instrumental in developing the Foundry's one-of-a-kind robotic synthesis capabilities, worked with his team of coauthors to form libraries of peptoid materials. After screening many candidates, the team landed upon the unique combination of polymer building blocks that spontaneously formed peptoid nanosheets in water.
Zuckermann and coauthor Christian Kisielowski reached another first by using the TEAM 0.5 microscope at the National Center for Electron Microscopy (NCEM) to observe individual polymer chains within the peptoid material, confirming the precise ordering of these chains into sheets and their unprecedented stability while being bombarded with electrons during imaging.
"The design of nature-inspired, functional polymers that can be assembled into membranes of large lateral dimensions marks a new chapter for materials synthesis with direct impact on Berkeley Lab's strategically relevant initiatives such as the Helios project or Carbon Cycle 2.0," said NCEM's Kisielowski. "The scientific possibilities that come with this achievement challenge our imagination, and will also help move electron microscopy toward direct imaging of soft materials."
"This new material is a remarkable example of molecular biomimicry on many levels, and will no doubt lead to many applications in device fabrication, nanoscale synthesis and imaging," Zuckermann added.
Scientists have for the first time reengineered a building block of a geometric nanocompartment that occurs naturally in bacteria. They introduced a metal binding site to its shell that will allow electrons to be transferred to and from the compartment. This provides an entirely new functio ... more
Graphene, a material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms, has been touted as the strongest material known to exist, 200 times stronger than steel, lighter than paper, and with extraordinary mechanical and electrical properties. But can it live up to its promise?
Scientists at the U ... more
California is committed to 33 percent energy from renewable resources by 2020. With that deadline fast approaching, researchers across the state are busy exploring options. Solar energy is attractive but for widespread adoption, it requires transformation into a storable form. Researchers r ... more
Just as proteins are one of the basic building blocks of biology, nanoparticles can serve as the basic building blocks for next generation materials. In keeping with this parallel between biology and nanotechnology, a proven technique for determining the three dimensional structures of indi ... more
A new technique pioneered at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory reveals atomic-scale changes during catalytic reactions in real time and under real operating conditions.
A team of scientists used a newly developed reaction chamber to combine x-ray absorption spec ... more
Scientists at the Critical Materials Institute have developed a two-step recovery process that makes recycling rare-earth metals easier and more cost-effective. Rare-earth metals are valuable ingredients in a variety of modern technologies and are found in cell phones, hard disk drives in c ... more