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A new, biologically inspired nanomaterial that captures light.

Harvesting light like nature

POSS-peptoid molecules converge into quadrilateral nanocrystals. Credit: Stephanie King | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Inspired by nature, researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), along with collaborators from Washington State University, have created a new material that can capture light energy. The material has a highly efficient artificial light harvesting system with potential applications in solar cells and biological imaging.

Research provides the foundation for overcoming the difficult challenges associated with creating functional hierarchical organic and inorganic composites. Nature provides beautiful examples of hierarchical hybrid materials such as bones and teeth. These materials typically exhibit a precise atomic arrangement that allows for a number of unique properties such as increased strength and ductility.

Chun-Long Chen, a materials scientist at PNNL, the relevant author of the study, and his collaborators created a new material that reflects the complexity of the structure and function of a natural hybrid material. The material combines the programmability of protein-like synthetic molecules with a complex of silicate-based nanocrystals to form a new class of high-strength nanocrystals. They then programmed this 2D hybrid material to create a highly efficient artificial light harvesting system.

“The sun is the most important source of energy that we have,” Chen said. “We wanted to see if we could program our hybrid nanocrystals to harvest light energy, just like natural plants and photosynthetic bacteria. Or not while there is a high strength and machinability seen in a synthetic system. ”The results of this study were published on May 1

4, 2021 in Scientific breakthrough.

Big dream, little crystal

Although these hierarchical structured materials are particularly difficult to construct, Chen’s team of multidisciplinary scientists has combined expert knowledge to synthesize sequentially defined molecules that can create such an arrangement. The researchers created a modified protein-like structure called a peptoid and attached a silicate cage-like structure (shortened POSS) to one end of it. They then found that, under the right conditions, they were able to stimulate these molecules to form perfectly shaped crystals of 2D nanoparticles. This is seen in the natural hierarchical structure while maintaining the high stability and the enhanced mechanical properties of each molecule.

“As a material scientist, natural materials give me a lot of inspiration,” Chen said. “Whenever I want to design molecules to do specific things, such as acting as a drug delivery vehicle, I tend to find natural samples. Can be a model in my design “

Harvesting light like nature

POSS-peptoid nanocrystals create a highly efficient light-harvesting system that absorbs exciting light and emits fluorescent signals. This system can be used for imaging living cells. Credit: Chun-Long Chen and Yang Song | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Bio-inspired material design

When the team successfully built these POSS-peptoid nanocrystals and demonstrated their unique properties, including high programming capabilities, they began to take advantage of these features. They programmed the material to group special function groups at specific locations and distances between molecules. Since these nanocrystals combine the strength and stability of POSS with the variability of the peptoid building blocks, the programming possibilities are endless.

Once again looking for inspiration from nature, scientists have created a system that can capture as much light energy the way pigments found in plants do. They added special “donor” molecules and cage-like structures that can bind “receptor” molecules to a certain location within the nanocrystals. The donor molecule absorbs light at a specific wavelength and transfers light energy to the receptor molecule. Then the receptor molecules emit light at different wavelengths. The newly created system shows an energy efficiency of over 96%, making it one of the most efficient light harvesting systems reported to date.

Demonstrates the use of POSS-peptoids. Harvesting light

To demonstrate the use of the system, the researchers then inserted the nanocrystals into living human cells as a biocompatible probe for imaging living cells. When certain colored light shines on a cell and a receptor molecule is present, the cell emits a different colored light. Without receptor molecules, a color change is not observed. Although the team demonstrated the benefits of this system for live cell imaging only. But the improved properties and high programmability of this 2D hybrid material lead them to believe this is one of many applications.

“Although this research is still in its early stages. But the unique structural and high-energy properties of the POSS-peptoid 2D nanocrystals have the potential to be applied to a wide variety of systems, from solar cells to photocatalysis, ”said Chen. The work will continue to explore avenues for application of this new hybrid material.

Solar cell experiments are almost unlimited.

More information:
Mingming Wang et al, programmable two-dimensional nanocrystals composed of peptoids with POSS as an efficient artificial light harvesting system. Scientific breakthrough (2021). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abg1448

Operated by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Reference: Synthesis of a new bio-inspired and light-capturing nanomaterial (2021, May 14) .Retrieved May 15, 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-05-class-bio-inspired-light. -capturing-nanomaterials .html

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