Washington, August 14 : An interuniversity research team has devised a technique that can enable nanotechnology scientists to see and examine tiny materials they create.
Experts from the University of Liverpool, The School of Pharmacy (University of London) and the University of Leeds say that their technique can enable scientists to examine tiny protein molecules called peptides on the surface of a gold nanoparticle.
Describing their work in the journal ChemBioChem, the researchers claimed that they were the first to be able to build a detailed picture of self-assembled peptides on a nanoparticle.
They said that their study offered the promise of new ways to design and manufacture novel materials on the tiniest scale, one of the key aims of nanoscience.
Lead researcher Raphael Levy has revealed that he used a chemistry-based approach and computer modelling to measure the distance between the peptides where they sit assembled on the gold nanoparticle.
He says that the technique exploits the ability to distinguish between two types of connection or 'cross-link'-one that joins different parts of the same molecule (intramolecular), and another that joins together two separate molecules (intermolecular).
As two peptides get closer together there is a transition between the two different types of connection, he adds.
Levy says that computer simulations can be applied as a sort of molecular ruler because it can help measure the distance at which this transition occurs.
Information obtained through this combination of chemistry and computer molecular dynamics shows that the interactions between peptides leads to a nanoparticle that is relatively organized, but not uniform.
Levy said: "As nanotechnology scientists we face a challenge similar to the one faced by structural biologists half a century ago: determining the structure with atomic scale precision of a whole range of nanoscale materials. By using a combination of chemistry and computer simulation we have been able to demonstrate a method by which we can start to see what is going on at the nanoscale."
He added: "If we can understand how peptides self-assemble at the surface of a nanoparticle, we can open up a route towards the design and synthesis of nanoparticles that have complex surfaces. These particles could find applications in the biomedical sciences, for example to deliver drugs to a particular target in the body, or to design sensitive diagnostic tests. In the longer term, these particles could also find applications in new generations of electronic components."
Professor Nigel Brown, BBSRC Director of Science and Technology, said: "Bionanotechnology holds great promise for the future. We may be able to create stronger, lighter and more durable materials, or new medical applications. Basic science and techniques for working at the nanoscale are providing the understanding that will permit future such applications of bionanotechnology."