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Researchers Create New Organic Gel Nanomaterials
“We are using the building blocks provided by nature to create new nanomaterials that are completely reversible and environmentally benign,” says Jonathan Dordick, the Howard P. Isermann ’42 Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Rensselaer. “The importance of this finding is the ability to use the same naturally occurring enzyme both to create chemically functional organogels and to reverse the process and break down these gels into their biologically compatible building blocks.”
In the experiments, researchers activated a sugar using a simple enzyme, which generated a compound that self-assembles into 3-D fibers measuring approximately 50 nanometers in diameter. As the fibers entangle, a large amount of solvent gets packed together, trapping some 10,000 molecules.
The resulting organogel materials could be used as biocompatible scaffolds for tissue engineering and designing membranes, according to Dordick. Other possible applications include delivery systems for pharmaceuticals and preservatives for food and cosmetics.
“The development of new materials that are molecularly defined and chemically functional at the nanoscale is of critical importance to biological applications such as drug delivery,” Dordick says. “We are finding the natural world has provided tools to create these materials without the need to generate new compounds that may be harmful to the body or environment.”
The research is led by Dordick and includes George John of the City University of New York; Guangyu Zhu, post-doctoral research associate at Rensselaer; and Jun Li of the University of Southern Mississippi. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation-funded Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center at Rensselaer, the Center for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures.
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