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May 6, 2002
Volume 80, Number 18
CENEAR 80 18 p. 12
ISSN 0009-2347


NANOSCIENCE

VIRUS ASSEMBLES NANOPARTICLES
New way to order inorganic materials on macroscale borrows from nature

AMANDA YARNELL

Harnessing the organizational power of biology, chemists at the University of Texas, Austin, have developed a facile new way to precisely order nanoparticles on the macroscale. Assistant professor Angela M. Belcher, graduate student Seung-Wuk Lee, and coworkers find that viruses engineered to bind zinc sulfide quantum dots self-assemble into highly ordered, three-dimensional liquid-crystal films [Science, 296, 892 (2002)].

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ZIGZAG An atomic-force microscope image of the surface of the liquid-crystal film shows ZnS-tipped rodlike viruses lined up in a herringbone pattern, creating precisely spaced rows of ZnS quantum dots.
COURTESY OF SEUNG-WUK LEE
The researchers genetically engineered a bacteriophage to create a library of peptides expressed on one tip of the rod-shaped virus. They then screened this library for viruses with affinity for a ZnS surface. The virus carrying the best ZnS-binding peptide was selected and mass-produced in its bacterial host.

When this virus was mixed with a solution of ZnS precursors, the resulting ZnS-tipped viruses self-assembled into liquid-crystal films. By changing the solution concentration, the researchers made films with different virus arrangements--for example, rod-shaped viruses lined up end to end or organized in a herringbone pattern--each with a unique ordering of ZnS quantum dots.

Viruses could be similarly engineered to organize other electronic, optical, and magnetic materials, Belcher says. She and her coworkers are now screening for viruses that bind CdS, CdSe, ZnSe, Co, CoPt, and FePt.

A number of techniques have been used to create similar patterns of nanostructures. In an accompanying commentary, chemistry professor Christopher K. Ober of Cornell University notes that the viral assembly method--which yields centimeter-long liquid-crystal films--may make it easier to extend such features over relatively large dimensions.



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