Scientists Create Nanotubes that Assemble Themselves

Thursday, 31 March 2016 - 5:00PM
Nanotechnology
Thursday, 31 March 2016 - 5:00PM
Scientists Create Nanotubes that Assemble Themselves
Nanotubes are an essential part of the future of technology, as they have been proposed for use in everything from improving electrical circuits and loudspeakers to drug delivery and water desalination. Until now, we had no way to make enough uniform nanotubes to serve many of the desired functions, but scientists from the Berkeley Lab have discovered a nature-inspired polymer that has the ability to assemble itself into nanotubes.

Nanotubes are hollow tubes that have diameters of only billionths of a meter. Carbon nanotubes, which are made with one-atom-thick carbon sheets of graphene, have been made with a length-to-diameter ratio of 132,000,000:1, which is significantly larger than that for any other material. But building any nanostructure is extremely difficult, since the tubes are so small, it takes millions of them to build a structure that's of any use. But the researchers discovered a family of polymers that, when placed in water, spontaneously assemble themselves into hollow crystalline nanotubes.

But even beyond the convenience and productiveness of self-assembly, this particular polymer has the ability to naturally assemble nanotubes of uniform diameter, which is an unheard-of feat up to this point. The polymer has two chemically distinct building blocks that are the same shape and size, which allows them to form tiled rings that stack up on top of one another to create these hollow tubes.

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"This points to a new way we can use synthetic polymers to create complex nanostructures in a very precise way," said Ron Zuckermann, director of the Biological Nanostructures Facility in Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, in a statement.
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The precision is key, as many of the functions of nanotubes, such as drug delivery or filtration, require a differentiation between substances that pass through them, which is only possible if every tiny tube has the exact same size and shape.

Opening quote
"Creating uniform structures in high yield is a goal in nanotechnology," said Zuckermann. "For example, if you can control the diameter of nanotubes, and the chemical groups exposed in their interior, then you can control what goes through--which could lead to new filtration and desalination technologies, to name a few examples."
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Via Futurism

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