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Self-assembling nano-ice discovered at UNL -- Structure resembles DNA

Lincoln, Neb., Dec. 11, 2006 -- Working at the frontier between chemistry and physics, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Xiao Cheng Zeng usually finds his reward in discovering the unexpected through computer modeling.

Zeng and his colleagues regularly find new and often unanticipated behaviors of matter in extreme environments, and those discoveries have been published several times in major international scientific journals. Their findings, though, have been so far ahead of existing technology that their immediate practical impact was essentially nil -- until now.

Chemistry professor Zeng and two members of his UNL team recently found double helixes of ice molecules that resemble the structure of DNA and self-assemble under high pressure inside carbon nanotubes. This discovery could have major implications for scientists in other fields who study the protein structures that cause diseases such as Alzheimer's and bovine spongiform ecephalitis (mad cow disease). It could also help guide those searching for ways to target or direct self-assembly in nanomaterials and predict the kind of ice future astronauts will find on Mars and moons in the solar system.

Zeng, post-doctoral student Jaeil Bai and doctoral candidate Jun Wang reported their findings in the Dec. 11-15 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Zeng and his colleagues use powerful computers to model how materials behave at the nanoscale (where measurements are made in billionths of meters) under extremes of temperature, pressure and confinement. The team found the self-assembling double helix of nano-ice following a months-long experiment on UNL's PrairieFire supercomputer.

The experiment was a follow-up on a 2001 discovery through computer modeling by Zeng and another team of four new kinds of one-dimensional ice inside carbon nanotubes. Scientists elsewhere later confirmed through laboratory experiment the existence of
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Contact: Kelly Bartling
kbartling2@unl.edu
402-472-2059
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
11-Dec-2006


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