Self-cleaning windows and more: the fabulousness of nano-materials.

Shiva Amiri
23 January 2012

The science of extremely small things is showing its application in a range of fields. Nanotechnology refers to the technology used to develop and control materials at the nano scale (10-9).

Fast fact: A millimetre is 10-3 of a meter, a micrometer is 10-6 of a meter (one-thousandths of a millimetre), and a nanometre is one thousandths of a micrometer or one billionth of a meter.

Nanotechnology has applications in medicine, engineering, energy, and the fields of application keep growing. This is because it allows for very specific control of the material. Why is this useful? In medicine for example, cells are small and if we want to manipulate things within a cell, we need to use small things to do this effectively. This is why nanotechnology is being used to deliver cancer-fighting medication, targeted only at cancer cells and not other cells.

Nanotechnology not only has uses in medicine, but is finding applications all across different areas. It is often used in materials sciences, such as in car paints to ensure durability, special repellent qualities and so on. It often uses biological materials such as proteins to achieve non-medical tasks.

Proteins are long peptides or polypeptides which are made up of amino acids and are involved in almost all cellular processes. Many are enzymes which make biochemical reactions take place in our bodies.

Did You Know?
Amino acids come from our DNA sequence. The DNA codes for messenger RNA, which in turn codes for the amino acids which make up the proteins (long peptides) in our bodies.

Now a new nano-material has been developed using peptides by the special arrangement of amino-acids. By arranging these peptides in a dense grass-like manner, the material is able to repel water, dust, and can withstand extreme heat.

Although the research began with Alzheimer's disease work, the team of Professor Gazit at Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Professor Gil Rosenman, also of Tel Aviv University, have found applications for this nano-material for electric cars, solar energy, and construction. A fantastic use for this technology is on solar panels, which tend to accumulate dirt, especially those placed in deserts. This material would allow for major savings for cleaning and maintenance of solar panels.

Although this turned out to be a great application of these peptides, Dr. Gazit is continuing his work with major drug company Merck to develop treatments for Alzheimer's disease.

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Article first published on December 28, 2009.

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Shiva Amiri

I am currently the Science and Innovation Officer at the British Consulate General in Toronto (life and medical research sectors). My role is part of a greater Science and Innovation Network (SIN) under the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office – working to facilitate scientific collaboration and encourage innovation between the UK and Canadian universities and research laboratories.I completed my D.Phil. (Ph.D.) in computational biochemistry at the University of Oxford. Prior to my studies at Oxford, I received an Honours B.Sc from the University of Toronto, with a double major in computer science and human biology. During this time, I conducted research with the Best Institute of Medical Research’s Bioinformatics and Proteomics program, working on software to predict mass spectroscopic data for entire proteomes. I volunteer with Let's Talk Science and enjoy writing and scientific communication.  I am a contributor to the Mark News  Apart from science, my interests include history, film, and fine arts. I also like to play sports, travel, and involve myself in humanitarian causes in the developing world.

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