He's Back! Scientists Create Bionic Technology from Terminator
Inspired by cybernetic organisms in fiction such as the "Terminator" movies and television show, researchers from the University of Michigan took a step towards building a real-life cyborg when they created self-assembling bionic particles.
Credit: University of Michigan
Using semi-conductors and proteins, the research team created particles that simulate the core of the process of photosynthesis. According to Nicholas Kotov, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan and leader of the experiment, "Human endeavors to transform the energy of sunlight into biofuels using either artificial materials or whole organisms have low efficiency." But by combining the features of inorganic materials and organic materials, the researchers have solved many of the problems for both. The semiconductor, cadmium telluride, converts light into electrons, and the organic cytochrome C transforms the electronic energy into fuel.
Since the two materials are sharing electrons during this process, the closer they are to each other, the more efficient the process will be. This directly led to the researchers' decision to combine the two materials into one particle. These particles then act on their own to turn into superparticles with their own functions. The ability to self-assemble may allow these particles to self-heal and regenerate after being worn down from the process of photosynthesis, as plants do naturally.
"We merged biological and inorganic in a way that leverages the attributes of both to get something better than either alone," said Professor Sharon Glotzer, leader of the simulations.
In these simulations, the scientists successfully used these particles to convert the pollutant nitrate into nitrite and oxygen. These experiments, while frightening in the context of "Terminator"-like scenarios, also potentially have profound implications for the field of environmentalism. The researchers aim to perfect a method for turning carbon dioxide and water into natural gas, which would allow for the current energy infrastructure to continue with drastically lowered net carbon emissions.