A team of Northwestern University scientists has learned how to top nature by building crystalline materials from nanoparticles and DNA, the same material that defines the genetic code for all living organisms.
Using nanoparticles as “atoms” and DNA as “bonds,” the scientists have learned how to create crystals with the particles arranged in the same types of atomic lattice configurations as some found in nature, but they also have built completely new structures that have no naturally occurring mineral counterpart.
The basic design rules the Northwestern scientists have established for this approach to nanoparticle assembly promise the possibility of creating a variety of new materials that could be useful in catalysis, electronics, optics, biomedicine and energy generation, storage and conversion technologies.
Chad A. Mirkin led the research. Chad said “Using these new design rules and nanoparticles as ‘artificial atoms,’ we have developed modes of controlled crystallization that are, in many respects, more powerful than the way nature and chemists make crystalline materials from atoms. By controlling the size, shape, type and location of nanoparticles within a given lattice, we can make completely new materials and arrangements of particles, not just what nature dictates.”
The researchers report six design rules that can be used to predict the relative stability of different structures for a given set of nanoparticle sizes and DNA lengths. In the paper, they use these rules to prepare 41 different crystal structures with nine distinct crystal symmetries. However, the design rules outline a strategy to independently adjust each of the relevant crystallographic parameters, including particle size (varied from 5 to 60 nanometers), crystal symmetry and lattice parameters (which can range from 20 to 150 nanometers). This means that these 41 crystals are just a small example of the near infinite number of lattices that could be created using different nanoparticles and DNA strands.
Mirkin and his team used gold nanoparticles in their work but note that their method also can be applied to nanoparticles of other chemical compositions. Both the type of nanoparticle assembled and the symmetry of the assembled structure contribute to the properties of a lattice, making this method an ideal means to create materials with predictable and controllable physical properties.
Mirkin believes that, one day soon, software will be created that allows scientists to pick the particle and DNA pairs required to make almost any structure on demand
A current limitation in nanoparticle superlattice engineering is that the identities of the particles being assembled often determine the structures that can be synthesized. Therefore, specific crystallographic symmetries or lattice parameters can only be achieved using specific nanoparticles as building blocks (and vice versa). We present six design rules that can be used to deliberately prepare nine distinct colloidal crystal structures, with control over lattice parameters on the 25- to 150-nanometer length scale. These design rules outline a strategy to independently adjust each of the relevant crystallographic parameters, including particle size (5 to 60 nanometers), periodicity, and interparticle distance. As such, this work represents an advance in synthesizing tailorable macroscale architectures comprising nanoscale materials in a predictable fashion.