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Scientists use DNA technology to build tough 3D nanomaterials

Scientists have developed a new fabrication technique that lends DNA-nanoparticle lattices the strength and stability of silica-based materials. Photo by Oleg Gang/Columbia Engineering
Scientists have developed a new fabrication technique that lends DNA-nanoparticle lattices the strength and stability of silica-based materials. Photo by Oleg Gang/Columbia Engineering

March 19 (UPI) -- Researchers at Columbia University have found a way to marry the versatility of DNA nanotechnology with the toughness of silica-based materials.

DNA technology can be used to design self-assembling, complexly organized nanoparticle structures.

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In theory, these structures can be designed for a variety of applications, but in reality, these structures are too soft and only stable in specific environs -- limiting their usefulness.

Scientists described the novel fabrication process in a new paper, published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

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"A significant level of designability at nanoscale, through our assembly approach, combined with demonstrated robustness, opens opportunities to build targeted 3D nanomaterials from nanoparticles," Oleg Gang, professor of chemical engineering at Columbia, told UPI in an email.

Great advances have been made in the fabrication of 2D materials, but electronic, optical and energy applications require more complex 3D nanomaterials.

"There is no well-established technological methods to create these materials yet," Gang said.

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In the lab, Gang and his research partners experiment with chains of DNA molecules that can be integrated with nanoparticles to self-assemble complex structures. These unique 3D structures can be used to build nanomaterials with specific physical properties.

For the new study, Gang and company developed a new fabrication process that converts 3D DNA-nanoparticle lattices into silica-based nanostructures.

Silica works because it binds well with the DNA-nanoparticle structures without altering the underlying arrangement of nanoparticles.

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"The newly formed materials are stable over a broad range of temperatures, pressures, radiation exposure," said Gang. "We envision the use of the materials for high-tech applications -- optics, information processing, electronics -- and these materials are scalable for these purposes."

The new fabrication process will allow material engineers to take advantage of DNA nanotechnology's full potential.

"It opens opportunities for many applications -- optical devices, information processing, electronics, quantum technologies, energy materials -- where limitations are due our inability to create complex 3D nanoscale structures," Gang said.

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