A Sponge's Guide to Nano-Assembly

Researchers at the University of California (Santa Barbara) are building semiconducting nano-materials using self-assembly techniques learned from sponges.  One type of sponge creates needles of glass using enzymes which act as a template as well as a catalyst that assembles precursor materials.

The team has created semiconducting films with a high surface area by using ammonia vapor as the catalyst as it diffuses into a solution of the precursors, with the surface of the solution acting as the template.  A thin film of crystals form which then grows needle-like structures into the solution. The technique works at room temperature and does not require harsh chemicals.  This benign manufacturing method allows use of materials that would not survive high temperatures.

The result has been unique structures, some with electrical properties not seen before.  Applications include more efficient batteries and solar cells, where increased surface area can improve electron and ion flows.

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