Materials, with designs inspired by, or manufactured using, biology will be created and used in, for example, photovoltaic materials, medicine, medical technologies, diagnostics, bioseparations, sensors and drug delivery. Creation of these new functional nanostructured materials with their enhanced capabilities will be informed by the development of innovative nano-tools. These tools will allow more straightforward and direct understanding, manipulation and control of materials including cells and their behaviour and function on the nanoscale, with relevance for example from stem cell therapies to cancer. The first 3 years are aimed at establishing the basic design rules for assembly, synthesis of novel functional molecules and capabilities for efficient materials synthesis. The second three years will build on these design rules to create useful materials with downstream societal and economic impact.
3 year overview and summary of goals
Materials that we will create will combine mechanical, electrical, optical and magnetic properties in unusual ways. The creation of these materials will support, stimulate, respond to and report on living cells. They will be used to great effect in areas as diverse as new types of sensors and actuators, memory elements and displays, photoelectric, photomagnetic and photomechanical devices, bone and tissue repair, cell culture, and drug testing. In these materials, the different functionalities will be enhanced by the structure and will interact to confer properties that would not be predictable from those of the individual elements. These functional nanostructures will be both inspired by biology and made using biological tools. One defining feature of the materials will be a hierarchy of structural elements precisely organised on scales from nanometres to centimetres.
The inspiration comes from biology. Nowhere is the power of self assembly, and the properties that emerge from this self assembly, more prominent than in biology. Even in an example as apparently simple as a pāua one can see at the nanometre scale the control of the crystal form of the minerals that make up the skeleton, then at the micrometre scale the organisation of these crystals into structures that confer mechanical strength or that confer other specific physical or optical properties, then at the millimetre scale an organisation that confers robustness with access for nutrients to all parts of the structure. At each one of these levels there is new science to discover and in the interaction of the whole there is a new frontier to open. Thus, we draw inspiration from the way in which biological molecules assemble into nanostructures, and how these nanostructures in turn assemble into objects that we can see. We use the knowledge of these exquisite self assembly processes to inform and design our work. We combine this knowledge with the molecular design and synthetic chemistry needed to make the new small molecule units that confer the functionality that is then assembled into the final complex nanostructure.
In the first three years of this new programme, we will integrate advances made over the last decade within the MacDiarmid Institute, aiming first at bio-inspired hierarchically assembled materials and surfaces with controlled mechanical, electrical, optical and magnetic properties. We will create these both by traditional chemistry methods and by engineering bacterial factories. In parallel, we will develop the fabrication methods needed to build highly functional surfaces and the measurement techniques needed for thorough characterisation of chemical composition, structure and function down to nanometre length scales. We will develop fabrication and measurement techniques that will enable us to build understanding of how living cells respond to the structure and mechanical properties of their environment. We can then envisage not only new types of sensing and actuation devices but also systems in which these new responsive materials are integrated with a living system.
Dr Carla Meledandri, principal investigator of the MacDiarmid Institute at the University of Otago, has found a way to use charged antibacterial silver nanocomposite structures ‘to sterilise dentine prior to the placement of a dental restorative material’ (publication). Read more
“Tools for the Nanoscale” is concerned with developing a set of novel tools and measurement platforms specifically to explore the mechanical properties of soft interfaces and how these translate into response and control of living cells. The tools will be used to explore the properties of the structures we make and to provide design data […]
The first objective in our Functional nanostructures science area “Synthesis and Assembly”, is directed at making the basic functional units then assembling these into the hierarchically-organised multi-functional product. This objective requires research on the assembly of macromolecules, both natural and synthetic, and the way in which such assemblies can organise smaller molecules that carry the […]
Story by Kate Hannah Professor Penny Brothers is as proud and enthusiastic talking about her family as she is her science – her screensaver is a beautiful shot of her climbing Mt Aspiring with her son Tristan. She tells me, with some pleasure, that she’s delighted to be the incoming President of both the New […]
Story by Kate Hannah Jadranka Travas-Sejdic, face lit up, is explaining her work: “basically it comes down to opening new frontiers in developing simple electronic devices that will make our lives simpler and safer—exploiting enormous potentials of organic (polymer) electronics.” She is not only a Principal Investigator with the MacDiarmid Institute, but also Director of […]
‘Big, brave ideas’ inspired by biology are helping New Zealand advance towards a science-based economy. Professor Juliet Gerrard is leading the MacDiarmid Institute’s work on Functional Nanostructures. The Director of the Biomolecular Interaction Centre at Canterbury University, she says it provides a bridge between the physical sciences for which the Institute is known and biology […]