Self-assembling Quasi-crystals from DNA Tiles

Project: Research project

Project Details


Overview: Quasicrystals are structures that exhibit long-range order but are not periodic. Their unusual organization and consequential novel materials properties involving adhesion, corrosion, friction, and hardness have intrigued scientists ever since their discovery. Despite the unique and potentially useful properties that are likely to emerge, after three decades of research very little is known about synthetic and naturally occurring quasicrystals or their mechanism of their formation. There are several fundamental issues that have not been examined, including what guides quasiperiodical rather than periodical growth, and what factors determine the resulting physical properties. One of the biggest challenges facing researchers today is the lack of plausible systems to control various aspects of the growth of quasicrystals and enable further study. DNA, a powerful natural material that has been validated for the nano-fabrication of almost any designed structure, is one of the most promising candidates for the controlled, programmable growth of synthetic quasicrystals. We propose to develop a selfassembling system of interacting DNA building blocks to: (1) create two-dimensional (2D) semiregular DNA tilings that can be designed to represent the transition between periodic and quasi-periodic patterns; (2) produce 2D aperiodic quasi-crystalline DNA nanoarrays; (3) utilize programmed 2D DNA quasicrystals as templates to organize metal nano-particles, and (4) discover and investigate any unique and potentially useful properties of these novel materials. Intellectual Merit: This proposed technology will exploit the distinctive programmability and controllable growth associated with structural DNA nanotechnology to produce artificial DNA quasi-crystals whose counterparts are yet to be identified in nature. This will allow us to investigate the still unknown mechanisms of quasi-crystal growth, and also provides a novel platform to organize other materials. This platform allows us to reach a level of structural complexity that does not exist in nature, thus creating unprecedented opportunities for engineering novel biomaterials. Broader Impact: The proposed research will have significant societal implications. Beyond the obvious value to fundamental materials research and scientific discovery, this project will create new research opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and underrepresented minority students. This includes summer research opportunities for local high school students and middle and high school teachers, and underrepresented minority students at a local junior college. In addition, the PIs lab is engaged in the development of a full-scale model for online mass-mentorship and competency-based distinctions in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) research for Arizona high school students. This online outreach tool will transform student engagement in STEM and bridge informal science learning (ISL) with formal education practices by rewarding students out-of-the-classroom accomplishments and aid vertical integration of knowledge between high school and collegecurrently lacking in our education system. The PIs lab is participating in this outreach effort as one of the lead projects and the proposed projects will be used as examples in its development.
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/18


  • NSF: Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO): $390,000.00

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