Inspired by nature, researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), along with collaborators at Washington State University, have created a new material that can capture light energy. This material provides a highly efficient artificial light harvesting system with potential applications in photovoltaics and bioimaging.
This study provides the basis for overcoming the challenges associated with creating hierarchical functional organic-inorganic hybrid materials. Nature provides beautiful examples of hierarchically structured hybrid materials such as bones and teeth. These materials usually exhibit an accurate atomic arrangement that can achieve many excellent properties, such as increased strength and toughness.
Corresponding author of this study, PNNL materials scientist Chun-Long Chen, and his collaborators have created a new material that reflects the structural and functional complexity of natural hybrid materials. This material combines the programmability of synthetic molecules such as proteins with the complexity of silicate-based nanoclusters to create a new class of highly robust nanocrystals. Then I programmed this 2D hybrid material to create a very efficient man-made object. light-Harvest system.
“The sun is the most important source of energy we have,” Chen said. “I wanted to see if I could program and harvest hybrid nanocrystals. Light energyLike natural plants and photosynthetic bacteria, it provides the high robustness and processability found in synthetic systems. The results of this study were published on May 14, 2021. Science Advances..
Big dreams, small crystals
Although it is very difficult to create these types of hierarchical materials, Chen’s team of interdisciplinary scientists have combined their expertise to synthesize sequence-defined molecules that can form such arrangements. .. Researchers created a modified protein-like structure called peptoid, with an exact silicate-based cage-like structure (POSS for short) attached to one end.Then they discovered that under the right conditions, they could induce these. molecule Self-assemble into fully shaped crystals of 2D nanosheets. This created another layer of cell membrane-like complexity similar to that found in natural hierarchies, while maintaining the high stability and enhanced mechanical properties of individual molecules.
“As a materials scientist, nature gives me a lot of inspiration,” Chen said. “Whenever you want to design a molecule that does something specific, such as acting as a drug delivery vehicle, you can almost always find a natural example for modeling your design.”
Bio-inspired material design
After the team succeeded in creating these POSS peptoid nanocrystals and demonstrated their unique properties, including high programmability, the team set out to take advantage of these properties. They programmed the material to contain special functional groups at specific positions and intermolecular distances. These nanocrystals combine the strength and stability of POSS with the volatility of peptoid building blocks, so the programming possibilities are endless.
Once again, naturally seeking inspiration, scientists have created a system that can capture light energy in the same way as the pigments found in plants. They have added a pair of cage-like structures with special “donor” molecules that can bind to “acceptor” molecules at their exact location within the nanocrystal. Donor molecules absorb light of a specific wavelength and transfer light energy to acceptor molecules. The acceptor molecule then emits light of different wavelengths. This newly created system has shown energy transfer efficiencies of over 96%, making it one of the most efficient aqueous light harvesting systems of its kind ever reported.
Demonstration of the use of POSS peptoids for light harvesting
Next, to showcase the use of this system, researchers inserted nanocrystals into raw human cells as a biocompatible probe for live cell imaging. Light of a particular color illuminates the cell, and if an acceptor molecule is present, the cell emits light of a different color. In the absence of acceptor molecules, no color change is observed. The team has only demonstrated the usefulness of this system for live cell imaging so far, but due to the enhanced properties and high programmability of this 2D hybrid material, it is one of many applications. They believe.
“Although this research is still in its infancy, the unique structural features and high energy transfer of POSS peptoid 2D nanocrystals have the potential to be applied to a variety of systems, from photovoltaic to photocatalyst,” Chen said. I am. He and his colleagues continue to explore ways to apply this new hybrid material.
Mingming Wang et al, a programmable two-dimensional nanocrystal constructed from POSS-containing peptoids as an efficient artificial light harvesting system, Science Advances (2021). DOI: 10.1126 / sciadv.abg1448
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
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