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NanoBiotechnology: Biomimetics and Nature Inspired Nanotechnology

Subgroup members

  • Dr Lucas Johnson (Research leader)
  • John Hayles (PhD)
  • Sheena Chen (PhD)

Nature through the evolution has developed strategies to create increasingly complex systems reaching most glorious achievement in the living organisms.

This is achieved by using a surprisingly small set of building blocks, modifies them and organizes hundred, thousands or millions of them in precisely assembled three-dimensional (3-d) functional structure. To accomplish this, Nature apply self-,templated-, and hierarchically assembly processes which are genetically controlled and driven by the law of kinetics and thermodynamics acting on the structural, chemical and electrical properties of the building units.

A new scientific field, called NanoBiotechnology, recently emerged as the application of Nanoscienece and Nanotechnology in biology with goals to use some of these concepts outside living organism to create new materials, properties, devices and systems. Our research in this field is focused on understanding and mimicking structure and properties of the soft and solid cell membranes which are one the most sophisticated machinery build by nature having many unique functions including ion and molecular transport, energy transfer and production, cell sensing and communications.


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Figures 1: Soft and solid cell membranes with molecular and nanopore structures: the inspiration for development of new fabrication technologies, materails and devices.

Diatom Nanotechnology: Nature Inspired Technology

Diatoms are unicellular eukaryotic photosynthetic algae present in every aquatic environments, with enormous ecological importance on this planet and an unique optical, photonic, transport, tribological and mechanical properties generated by pore structures and patterns of their protective silica wall. Diatom nanotechnology is recently emerged as a new interdisciplinary area, which spawned collaborations in biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, physics, chemistry, material science and engineering to study this extraordinary living species. Diatoms are called as Nature's unique nanofabrication factories able to produce 3-d silica structure for several minutes with extraordinary diversity of patterns and structures from nano to micron scale structures and fascinating properties. Our research in this field started with study of diatom silica structure to understand their impact on optical, photonic, molecular transport and mechanical properties. In following years we used diatom silica for template synthesis of 2-d and 3-d metal and polymer structures with complex morphologies and unique optical properties for applications in optics and biosenising. In recent years our research is moved from cultured diatoms to fossilized diatom silica which is widely available from the mining industry. Our research is focused on transforming of cheap diatom silica into new valuable nanomaterials and their composites for diverse applications including advanced water purification, extraction of precious and heavy metals, catalysis, drug delivery, solar cells and pest control.

Trends in Biotechnology, 2009, 27,116-127

Figures 2: Significance and potential of diatoms in Nanoechnology.

Lessons from diatoms: Exploring relationships between nanostructures, properties and functions


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Figures 3: There are more than 100.000 different diatom species all with different shapes and pore structures at micro to nano scale and uniqe optical, photonic, mechanical and transport properties which are still not well understood.

Advanced Materials, 2009, 21,1-12

The nanofabrication lessons from diatoms: self-assembly of 3-d structures from molecular, nano to micron scale


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Figure 4: The formation of diatom cell silica structure by unique genetically controlled self-assembly process using bottom-up approach to form silica particle from silicic acid and then assembly them into complex 3-d structure. Mimicking this process could lead us for cheap and large scale production of 3-d materials not possible by currently used2-d lithographic fabrication technologies

Biomimetic membranes for advanced molecular separation


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Figure 5: Hierarchical pore organization and asymmetrical shaped pores of diatom frustules indicate their an unique transport and separation properties we are exploring for development new separation concepts and devices.

Journal of  Nanoscience and  Nanotechnology 2006, 6, 982-989

Biomimetic optics, biosensing and solar cells


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Figure 6. Optical and photonic properties of diatom silica with unique optical and photonic properties is a link toward cheap optical devices and solar cells.

Biomimetic and template nanofabrication of complex nanostructures with unique properties


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Figure 7: Template and lithography-free  nanofabrication  of  2-d and 3-d metal structures with complex morphologies and  unique optical properties  (SPR, LSPR, Raman).

Chemical Communications 2005, 4905-4907
Journal of Materials Chemistry, 2006, 16, 4029-4034
New Journal of Chemistry, 2006, 30, 908-914

Figure 8: Diatoms for template and lithography-free nanofabrication of 2-d and 3-d polymer structures with complex morphologies and unique diffraction properties for optical and sensing devices.

Advanced  Functional  Materials,  2007, 17, 2439-2446


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Figure 9: Diatoms for template and lithography-free nanofabrication of 3-d metal (gold) structures with complex morphologies and unique catalytic properties

Langmuir, 2010,26,14068-14072

Large scale production of porous diatom silica from fossilized diatoms for emerging applications


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Figure 10: Large scale production of silica microcapusales from fossilised diatoms (Diatomaceous Earth) for broad applications

Functionalised porous diatom silica for efficient extraction of precious, heavy metals and radionuclides


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Figure 11: Chemically functionalised diatom silica for effective adsorption and removal of metal ions

Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, 2011, 11, 10349-10356
Science and Technology of Advanced Materials, 2012, 13, 015008

New catalysts and energy electrode materials from metal and metal oxide with diatom morphologies


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Figure 12: Development of new catalyst and electrode materials using 3-d diatom scaffolds

Langmuir, 2010,26,14068-14072

Micro-robots and targeted drug delivery system with magnetic diatom silica microcapsules

Figure 13: The diatom microcapsules as drug-carrier with external-field control toward development of micro-robotic devices

Chemical Communication, 2010, 46, 6323-6325
Nanomedicine, 2011, 6 (7) 1159-1173
International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 2013, 443 230-241443 230-241
Advanced Powder Materials 2013, 24, 757-763

Diatom silica platform for cell growth and culturing

Figure 13: The diatom silica is expellant scaffold for cell growth and exploring their behaviour with interaction with surface

Diatom silica for chemical-free and resistance-free pest control in stored grains

Figure 14: The diatom silica has expellant properties for chemicals-free killing of insects and protection of stored grains

Micro and Nanosystems, 2011, 3 (4) 277-2833 (4) 277-283

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