NSF grant to develop cutting-edge nanomaterials

201306047919620(Nanowerk News) The National Science Foundation (NSF)  has awarded New York University researchers and their colleagues at the  California Institute of Technology (Caltech) a $2 million grant to develop  cutting-edge nanomaterials that hold promise for improving the manufacturing of  advanced materials, biofuels, and other industrial products.
Under the grant, the scientists will develop biomimetic  materials with revolutionary properties—these molecules will self-replicate,  evolve, and adopt three-dimensional structures a billionth of a meter in size by  combining DNA-guided self-assembly with the centuries-old art of origami  folding.
The four-year grant is part of the NSF’s Origami Design for  Integration of Self-assembling Systems for Engineering Innovation (ODISSEI)  program and includes NYU Chemistry Professors Nadrian Seeman and James Canary  and NYU Physics Professor Paul Chaikin. They will team up with Caltech’s William  A. Goddard, III and Si-ping Han.
Others involved in the project are molecular biologists John  Rossi and Lisa Scherer of City of Hope Medical Center and mathematicians Joanna  Ellis-Monaghan and Greta Pangborn of Saint Michael’s College in Vermont.
The work will build upon recent breakthroughs in the field of  structural DNA nanotechnology, which Seeman founded more than three decades ago  and is now pursued by laboratories across the globe. His creations allow him to  arrange pieces and form specific molecules with precision—similar to the way a  robotic automobile factory can be told what kind of car to make.
Previously, Seeman has created three-dimensional DNA structures,  a scientific advance bridging the molecular world to the world where we live. To  do this, he and his colleagues created DNA crystals by making synthetic  sequences of DNA that have the ability to self-assemble into a series of 3D  triangle-like motifs. The creation of the crystals was dependent on putting  “sticky ends”—small cohesive sequences on each end of the motif—that attach to  other molecules and place them in a set order and orientation. The make-up of  these sticky ends allows the motifs to attach to each other in a programmed  fashion.
Recently, the Seeman and Chaikin labs teamed up to develop  artificial structures that can self-replicate, a process that has the potential  to yield new types of materials. In the natural world, self-replication is  ubiquitous in all living entities, but artificial self-replication had  previously been elusive. Their work marked the first steps toward a general  process for self-replication of a wide variety of arbitrarily designed “seeds”.  The seeds are made from DNA tile motifs that serve as letters arranged to spell  out a particular word. The replication process preserves the letter sequence and  the shape of the seed and hence the information required to produce further  generations. Self-replication enables the evolution of molecules to optimize  particular properties via selection processes.
Under the NSF grant, the researchers will aim to take these  innovations to the next level: the creation of self-replicating 3D arrays. To do  so, the collaborators will aim to fold replicating 1D and 2D arrays into 3D  shapes in a manner similar to paper origami—a complex and delicate process.
In meeting this challenge, they will adopt tools from graph  theory and origami mathematics to develop algorithms to direct self-assembling  DNA nanostructures and their origami folds. The mathematical component of the  endeavor will be supplemented by the artistic expertise of Portland, Ore.-based  sculptor Julian Voss-Andreae, who will advise the team on issues related to  design and will use his skills to develop life-size physical models of the  nanoscopic structures the scientists are seeking to build.
The program officer at NSF responsible for monitoring this  Emerging Frontiers in Research and Innovation (EFRI) project is Paul Collopy.
Source: New York University

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