Annual Report FY 2004 - Research at Cornell

30. Imitating Nature

Ulrich B. Wiesner, Materials Science and Engineering, and his research team designed self-assembling molecules that imitate nature’s system of organizing living tissue. Just as our bodies consist of functional assemblies of molecules, such as cell walls that form spontaneously, so are these new macromolecules designed to self-assemble. The researchers encode information about self-assembly behavior into the structure of the macromolecules. These new macromolecules change their structure several times as the temperature rises (called a rich-phase behavior), and each stable phase produces a different behavior. Some of the molecules are cylindrical, some look like a double sandwich, and some are continuous three-dimensional cubic structures. By mimicking nature, it is possible to design nanoscale structures that otherwise would be impossible to manufacture. The technique could lead to the creation of devices with dimensions smaller than those possible with lithography—a development that the microelectronics industry has been seeking. These new macromolecules could also lead to improvements in solar-cell and fuel-cell technology.

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