Hunter Chemistry Team Achieves Scientific Breakthrough

October 19, 2010 | Hunter College

A team in the Hunter chemistry department has achieved a scientific breakthrough that could have a far-reaching impact on the emerging field of nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating materials on the molecular and even atomic level to build tiny devices. Some experts believe it will revolutionize robotics, electronics, optics, solar technology and many other fields, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the U.S. in the next decade.

While much is known about manipulating materials at the molecular and atomic levels, the challenge has been to build the results into stable three-dimensional structures. That is where the breakthrough by the Hunter team, led by Hiroshi Matsui, chairman of the chemistry department, comes in.

Prof. Matsui and his colleagues have discovered that peptides taken from collagen, the building blocks of the human body, can be used to chemically bond tiny bits of material together in much the same way that mortar joins bricks. Once bonded, the materials eventually form themselves into a new structure, known as a super-lattice, that is three-dimensional and stable. The super-lattices could then be assembled into a device, for example a microprocessor or solar cell.

While many problems remained to be solved, the Hunter team’s work has already attracted the attention of the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense, which has created a special research grant to focus on the Hunter breakthrough.

Prof. Matsui said, “We gain confidence that our technology is going to have a significant impact in many scientific fields. The ultimate goal in nanotechnology is to produce devices that have practical, real-world applications. We believe that the unique features of peptides will enable us to create large-scale, three-dimensional components in precise designs for solar cells, optics and other microelectronic applications. This is the long sought-after technology.”