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Nanotechnology with Proteins

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Protein-Based Nanowire Design
Ray Salemme & Zelda Wasserman

Nanotechnology: What is It?

Nanotechnology is a term that refers to materials or devices that have structural features on the nanometer scale. One nanometer (nm) is 1x10-9 meters. This is the scale of molecules that are connected together with chemical bonds that are typically on the order of 0.1 to 0.2 nm in length.

Why is Nanotechnology Useful?

Miniaturization: The efficiency of many devices ultimately devolves on maximizing the density with which discrete components can be manufactured on an appropriate substrate. For example, silicon-based semiconductor fabrication technology has continuously progressed over the last 40 years according to Moore’s Law, with an approximate doubling in device density every two years. As a result, processes are now under development that will produce integrated circuits with 22 nm features. Nevertheless, many believe that pushing device densities much beyond the latest generation may be subject to fundamental physical limitations.

Emergence of New Properties: There is considerable interest in exploiting the emergence of new properties that uniquely occur in very small systems for the development of new kinds of functional devices. Novel properties can range from effects stemming from the statistical or quantum characteristics that emerge in very small systems, to novel physical phenomena that emerge through the interaction of light with metamaterial structures having dimensions less than the wavelength of light (~300 nm).

Biological System Interfaces: One of the most exciting possibilities for nanotechnology involves the development of materials or devices that can directly interact with biological systems and/or directly incorporate biological macromolecules as intrinsic structural or functional components. Virtually all of the functionality and interaction specificity of biological systems is manifest in the structure of macromolecules structurally organized at the nanoscale. These macromolecules include proteins and nucleic acids. Proteins in particular have evolved a huge diversity of structure and function, all the result of precision self-assembly at the nanoscale.
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