Presented by Dr. Angela Belcher
Organisms have been making exquisite inorganic materials for over 500 million years. Although these materials have many desired physical properties such as strength, regularity, and environmentally benign processing, the types of materials that organisms have evolved to work with are limited. However, there are many properties of living systems that could be potentially harnessed by researchers to make advanced technologies that are smarter, more adaptable, and that are synthesized to be compatible with the environment. One approach to designing future technologies which have some of the properties that living organisms use so well, is to evolve organisms to work with a more diverse set of building blocks. The goal is to have a DNA sequence that codes for the synthesis and assembly of any inorganic material or device. We have been successful in using evolutionarily selected peptides to control physical properties of nanocrystals and subsequently use molecular recognition and self-assembly to design biological hybrid multidimensional materials. These materials could be designed to address many scientific and technological problems in electronics, environmental remediation, medicine, and energy applications. Currently we are using this technology to design new methods for building batteries, fuel cells, solar cells, carbon sequestration and storage, environmental remediation, catalysis, and medical diagnostics and imaging. This talk will address conditions under which organisms first evolved to make materials and scientific approaches to move beyond naturally evolved materials to genetically imprint advanced technologies with examples in lithium and sodium ion batteries, lithium-air batteries, environmental clean-up and ovarian cancer imaging and treatment.