NSF awards interdisciplinary Penn team $1.45 million to study, develop building blocks of nanostructures

PHILADELPHIA The National Science Foundation has awarded $1.45 million to scientists at the University of Pennsylvania, establishing a new Nanotechnology Science and Engineering Center that will seek out the building blocks of next-generation nanostructures.

The four-year grant will permit Penn researchers to take aim at one of nanotechnologys chief challenges: learning how simple biological molecules organize themselves into structures far more complicated and then putting those lessons to work in the development of synthetic self-assembling molecules.

Principal investigator on the effort is Virgil Percec, a Penn chemistry professor. Together with a team of Penn chemists, physicists, biochemists, biophysicists and materials scientists, Percec hopes to finger synthetic molecules that mimic natural biomolecules ability to arrange effortlessly into larger structures. The effort will also include a group of international collaborators from the Max Planck Institute, the University of Mainz and the University of Ulm, all in Germany, and the University of Sheffield in Britain.

In large part, nanotechnology seeks to emulate the natural world, where millions of years of evolution have worked to maximize efficiency while minimizing waste. In humans and other animals, a couple of cells give rise to an amazingly diverse array of tissues and organs. Percecs team hopes to recreate, with laboratory-created molecules, this ability of individual biomolecules to coalesce into more complicated structures.

By way of atoms and molecules that assemble themselves from scratch, nanotechnology might allow virtually fully automated production of consumer goods. Scientists believe nanotechnologys self-assembling molecules could lay the groundwork for new products such as microscopic capsules that selectively deliver drugs to tumors, Herculean carbon fibers to bulk up weak plastics, artificial proteins that harness the best properties of natural ones an

Contact: Steve Bradt
University of Pennsylvania

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