HANOVER, N.H., April 26 (UPI) -- Proteins are the contractors of the nanoscale natural world, assembling and building at the atomic, molecular and cellular levels. Increasingly, materials scientists are working to harness that power.
Recently, researchers at Dartmouth College created protein capable of crafting buckyball molecules. "Buckyball" is a nickname for buckminsterfullerene molecules, a soccer ball-shaped molecule of 60 carbon atoms.
The newly synthesized protein organizes buckyballs into a periodic lattice -- a wall of buckyballs.
"Learning to engineer self-assembly would enable the precise organization of molecules by design to create matter with tailored properties," Gevorg Grigoryan, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth, said in a news release. "In this research, we demonstrate that proteins can direct the self-assembly of buckminsterfullerene into ordered superstructures."
Nanoscale superstructures are prized by materials scientists for their superior strength and lightweight qualities. Nanoscale materials can also be manipulated for more precise control of spectral qualities and chemical reactivity.
Researchers described the advantages and potential of their protein in the journal Nature Communications.
"This is a proof-of-principle study demonstrating that proteins can be used as effective vehicles for organizing nano-materials by design," Grigoryan added. "If we learn to do this more generally -- the programmable self-assembly of precisely organized molecular building blocks -- this will lead to a range of new materials towards a host of applications, from medicine to energy."