Granted, for most people the words in a ‘self assembling forest of peptides’ may not strike a chord of recognition. Researchers at Tel Aviv University (Israel) hope recognition will come. The phrase describes a preliminary technology, proof of concept really, involving a certain kind of nanotechnology using nanotubes. Like many uses of nanotubes, there is a promise of future applications. The press release announcing the research work, as many are, is full of back-slapping and superlatives. Is this one among many, or a standout achievement?
The ‘success’ of any new technology has many aspects: The soundness of the underlying science; the practicality of manufacturing, the utility of applications – among other things. In this case, years of research primarily aimed at finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease developed techniques for mass producing nanotubes (or nanotubules) from organic material (peptides). As frequently happens, the techniques and materials suggested other applications – and a new line of research was born. This research led to some key points: The nanotubes are self-assembling, which makes manufacturing potentially much simpler. They are constructed from organic peptides, like those in artificial sugars, which are inexpensive and readily available. The nanotubes are created in a vacuum at high temperature, which means they can withstand applications with high temperatures. They are also water resistant and can store an electrical charge.
As research is showing, nanotubes can be (and are) made of many different things. (Graphene is another very promising material.) Will this one attract commercial attention? The answer to that question is already a yes. Applications in battery technology and thin-film properties (…a dust and water resistant windshield coating) are being tested.
Operating in the range of 100 nanometers (roughly one-billionth of a meter) and even smaller, graduate student Lihi Adler-Abramovich and a team working under Prof. Ehud Gazit in TAU’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology have found a novel way to control the atoms and molecules of peptides so that they “grow” to resemble small forests of grass.
“We are not manufacturing the actual material but developing a basic-science technology that could lead to self-cleaning windows and more efficient energy storage devices in just a few years,” says Adler-Abramovich. “As scientists, we focus on pure research. Thanks to Prof. Gazit’s work on beta amyloid proteins, we were able to develop a technique that enables short peptides to ‘self-assemble,’ forming an entirely new kind of coating which is also a super-capacitor.”
[Source: Nanotechnology Today]
Perhaps the marketplace will determine if ‘a forest of peptides’ nanotubes can compete against all the other nanotubes out there. As is often the case, it’s a technology in search of a niche, with perhaps a few more options than most.