Organic nano-material proves bio can match metallic strength

(September 30, 2010 – PRNewswire) — A revolutionary new spherical nanostructure, fully derived from very simple organic elements, yet strong as steel, has been developed and characterized at the laboratories of Ehud Gazit of Tel Aviv University and Itay Rousso of the Weizmann Institute of Science. Lightweight and exceptionally strong, easy and inexpensive to produce, friendly to the environment and biologically compatible, these promising bio-inspired nano-spheres have innumerable potential uses – from durable composite materials to medical implants.

The researchers, Prof. Gazit, Dr. Lihi Adler-Abramovich and Inbal Yanai from TAU’s Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, working in collaboration with Dr. Itay Rousso and Nitzan Kol from the Weizmann Institute and David Barlam and Roni Shneck of Ben-Gurion University, used a simple dipeptide, consisting of only two amino acids, to form spherical nanostructures. Self-assembling under ambient conditions — without any heating or manipulation — this remarkable new material is the first bio-inspired nano-material known to date that is mechanically equal and even superior to many metallic substances. While demonstrating chemical properties similar to those of the ultra-rigid Kevlar(R) polymer, already used for bulletproof vests, the new substance is built from much simpler building blocks, enabling some important advantages: manipulation and deposition at the nano-scale, the fabrication of nano-materials of tubular, spherical and other geometries, and spontaneous formation by self-assembly. Here, indeed is a perfect building block for numerous applications.

Hard and strong as steel, this new nanostructure is an ideal element for the reinforcement of composite materials used in the space, aviation and transportation industries; biologically compatible yet extremely rigid and durable, it is an excellent candidate for replacing metallic implants; tough, light and impenetrable, it is an exceptional option for manufacturing bullet-proof vests.

The work was recently published in Angewandte Chemie.

The new nanotechnology development now emerging from Tel Aviv University is based on extensive research which began in Prof. Gazit’s laboratory in 2003. In an earlier achievement, the team was able to fabricate tubular nanostructures that assemble themselves into vast "forests" featuring exceptional mechanical and physical properties. This earlier work, based on the doctoral thesis of Dr. Lihi Adler-Abramovich, and published in 2009 in Nature Nanotechnology, may eventually generate self-cleaning windows and solar panels, as well as supreme energy storage devices with exceptionally high energy density.

The original paper can be found here: 

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