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University Researchers Engineer Stronger-than-Steel Material from Glass-coated DNA

Posted: 9th October 2023 10:56

Researchers at the University of Connecticut and Brookhaven National Lab have taken material science to a new frontier. By employing an innovative combination of DNA and glass, they’ve developed an extraordinarily strong and lightweight material with potential applications ranging from energy-efficient vehicles to improved body armor.

This unusual combination has the potential to revolutionize the industry. Traditionally, the relationship between strength and weight has been mutually exclusive – as the strength of a substance increases, so does its weight. However, this newly developed glass and DNA material pushes these boundaries, showcasing a surprising interplay between strength and lightness.

The team of scientists programmed DNA so that it self-assembles into a lattice-like structure. This intricate skeleton was then coated with a glass-like material just a few hundred atoms thick. The discovery that a flawless piece of glass can withstand extensive pressure held the key to their innovation. Typically recognized as a fragile substance, glass usually shatters due to flaws such as cracks, scratches, or missing atoms. However, as the researchers found, when a piece of glass is flawless and less than a micrometer thick, it becomes incredibly strong.

The end product of their research is a nanolattice structure constituted by glass-coated DNA. As one of the researchers, Seok-Woo Lee, notes, “For the given density, our material is the strongest known.” Notably, these glass nanolattice structures boast a strength of four times that of steel but with a density of five times less.

This creation falls under an emerging class of mechanical metamaterials characterized by superior strength-to-weight ratios. These properties stem from their spatial architectures and their nanoscale-sized elements, which possess near-theoretical strength.

Despite this significant breakthrough, Lee and his team recognize that this is just the beginning. Plans are in place to experiment with different DNA structures, replacing glass with even stronger materials like carbide ceramics in the pursuit of enhancing the material’s strength. As co-author Oleg Gang noted, “The ability to create designed 3D framework nanomaterials using DNA and mineralize them opens enormous opportunities for engineering mechanical properties.”

This innovation thus marks a profound leap in material science, promising potential advances in fields where strength and weight are crucial. Forging a path towards not only enhancing technologies such as safer, faster cars, but also fueling other exciting possibilities. As Lee said, drawing an analogy with comic book characters, “Our new material is five times lighter but four times stronger than steel. So, our glass nanolattices would be much better than any other structural materials to create an improved armor for Iron Man.”

Like the armor of the beloved superhero, the potential of this material lies in its futuristic technology, reinforcing the fascination and importance of ongoing scientific innovation. This development underscores how science can reconfigure relationships that were once thought immutable, opening up new frontiers in material science and leading us into a more advanced and sustainable future.

Furthermore, the researchers see potential applications in areas such as aerospace, construction, and even consumer electronics. The lightweight and strong nature of the material could lead to the development of more efficient aircraft, stronger and more durable buildings, and even thinner and lighter electronic devices.

However, the research team acknowledges that this is just the beginning of their journey. They plan to continue experimenting with different DNA structures and materials to further enhance the strength of the nanolattice structure. This ongoing research and development demonstrates the potential for even greater advancements in material science and the creation of even stronger and lighter materials.

The study High-strength, lightweight nano-architected silica has been published in Cell Reports Physical Science.



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