At the Max-Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, the world’s first light-operated nanoscopic machine (machine one the scale of few hundred billionths of a meter) has the potential to revolutionize nanoscopic technology, and begin a new age of science-reality.
The nanoscale structure operates by binding a chemical “padlock” onto the ends of two nanoscale DNA structures. When the chemicals are exposed to normal light, they lock together, and close the structure. When exposed to UV light, the lock springs open. According to scitechdaily.com, the nanostructure is ideal for use as a component of a nanoscale motor or gearbox.
“Like the two blades of a scissors, they have two DNA bundles connected by a type of hinge,” said scitechdaily. “Each bundle is only 80 nanometres long and each consists of 14 strands of coiled up DNA lying parallel to each other. Initially, the motion of the scissor-like nanostructure is blocked by a type of chemical padlock made of azobenzenes, which can be opened by UV light.”
Nanomachines are most commonly cited for their potential to revolutionize material sciences. By being able to construct and manipulate materials on the molecular level, materials can be almost infinitely customizable. Imagine a material that can be crafted to be as conductive, dense, flexible and reflective as needed. According to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the benefits of nanoscale tech will be enormous in the production and design of new materials.
“Most benefits of nanotechnology depend on the fact that it is possible to tailor the essential structures of materials at the nanoscale to achieve specific properties, thus greatly extending the well-used toolkits of materials science,” said the National Nanotechnology Initiative. “Using nanotechnology, materials can effectively be made to be stronger, lighter, more durable, more reactive, or better electrical conductors, among many other traits.”
Laura Na Liu, a senior member of the team working on the system, stated in an article for Scitechdaily.com that the new plasmonic system is perfect for the creation of other nano-scale systems and materials.
“As the angle between the two DNA bundles can be controlled,” said Na Liu, “it offers the possibility to change the relative position of nanoparticles in space.”
This means that the structures comprising the “limbs” of the systems can be used to arrange the reactions and structures of complex molecules, allowing for exactly the type of control of material development described by the National Nanotechnology Initiative.
The most remarkable part of the new system, however, is its utilization of a fully developed plasmonic system to provide one of the first instant feedback on the arrangement of it components. By binding the DNA “limbs” to gold rods, the researchers were able to observe the behaviour and interactions of plasmons, groups of electrons on the surface of the metal.
According to scitechdaily.com, the research team was able to use light spectroscopy to measure the angle of the DNA strands, and determine whether the structure was open or closed.
“The light excitation causes not only the molecular padlock fixing the two DNA bundles together to spring open, plasmons on the gold particles also start to oscillate,” said scitechdaily.com. “When the scissor-like structure opens, the angle between the two gold rods changes as well, which has an effect on the plasmons.”
Plasmons are collections of electrons on a metal surface, grouping like a plasma, hence their name. Scientists can use the spectral properties of plasmons to measure the arrangement of the structures components.
“The researchers can observe these changes spectroscopically by irradiating the nanosystem with light with suitable properties and measuring how it changes,” said scitechdaily.com.
The full scope of this development is hard to grasp – a breakthrough of this kind heralds a revolution in both science and technology. RAHS Senior Henry Watts was amazed by the scientists ability to create such miniscule machines.
“I definitely think that this kind of manipulation of such tiny machines is super important in the development of more nano-scale machines,” said Watts. “Thinking about all the possible applications of both this machine and the concepts of construction it demonstrates, I’m sure that the new nano-scale inventions that come from this will astound people.”
This innovation is important not just for its own potential for application in a wide variety new nanoscale machines, but for the proof of concept. It successfully demonstrates the fact that these types of nanomachines are possible, and that the principles they use promise to create an entirely new field of technology.