DNA reconstructs nanotubes to create room-temperature superconductors


Technological Innovation Website Editor – 08/08/2022

DNA can turn nanotubes into superconductors at room temperature

The DNA origami technique has made it possible to rework the structure of carbon nanotubes with precision.
[Imagem: Zhiwei Lin et al. – 10.1126/science.abo4628]

superconducting nanotubes

In a remarkable example of scientific convergence, researchers in the field of biomedicine have created a tool that can boost the field of superconductors, materials that transmit electricity without resistance and that promise to revolutionize almost everything from electronic energy transmission.

Much has been known about the potential for carbon nanotubes to create superconducting wires. While ordinary wires of electricity made from nanotubes have long been a reality, making them superconducting is a far more difficult challenge to overcome.

This would actually require putting into practice one of the biggest dreams of nanotechnology: the possibility of building things from the bottom up, molecule by molecule or even atom by atom.

It turns out that one possible way of realizing the idea of ​​a superconductor is to modify the trusses that form the tiny hollow cylinders of carbon, carbon nanotubes. The problem is how to control the chemical reactions along the nanotubes, so that their network is assembled with the necessary precision so that there is no obstacle to the passage of electrons.

That’s what Zhiwei Lin and his colleagues in the field of life sciences at the University of Virginia, in the USA, came up with: What if we used the increasingly advanced technology of DNA origami, which already allows us to assemble structures visible to the naked eye and to build electric motors?

They have not yet created superconducting carbon nanotube cables, but they have just demonstrated that their technique is promising and could indeed lead to this.

DNA can turn nanotubes into superconductors at room temperature

The next step will be to make the necessary adjustments to achieve the predicted superconductivity at room temperature.
[Imagem: Zhiwei Lin et al. – 10.1126/science.abo4628]

Assembly of nanotubes with DNA

Lin took molecules of DNA, the genetic material that tells living cells how to operate, and used them to guide a chemical reaction that could make it possible to build a superconductor from the bottom up.

In short, the technique is to use chemistry to perform surprisingly accurate structural engineering – building at the level of individual molecules. The result was a network of carbon nanotubes assembled as needed to create a superconductor that works at room temperature.

Everything was done inside a cryo-electron microscope, a technique widely used in biology to determine the atomic structure of proteins. But its use in researching new materials is a novelty.

“This work demonstrates that orderly modification of carbon nanotubes can be achieved by taking advantage of the DNA sequence’s control over the spacing between adjacent reaction sites,” said Professor Edward Egelman.

The next step will now be to assemble a team, with the participation of physicists and engineers, to test the nanotubes built with DNA, verifying their eventual superconductivity. The team is excited about this, since, having proven that their biological tool works, it will be possible to make any adjustments that prove necessary to arrive at a superconducting nanotube.

“Although we often think of biology using tools and techniques developed by physics, our work shows that approaches developed in biology can indeed be applied to problems in physics and engineering,” said Egelman. “This is what’s so exciting about science: not being able to predict where our work will take us.”


Article: DNA-guided lattice remodeling of carbon nanotubes
Authors: Zhiwei Lin, Leticia C. Beltran, Zeus A. De los Santos, Yinong Li, Tehseen Adel, Jeffrey A Fagan, Angela R. Hight Walker, Edward H. Egelman, Ming Zheng
Magazine: Science
Vol.: 377, Issue 6605 pp. 535-539
DOI: 10.1126/science.abo4628

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