What are you working on?
We try to understand how organisms make materials and expand those processes to materials that those organisms haven’t had the opportunity to work with yet. We’ve been borrowing ideas from how abalone grow shells. About 500 million years ago in the ocean, abalone encountered changes in their environment such as increased calcium and other kinds of atoms. They had to learn how to process those changes and, in so doing, they built shells. They built calcium carbonate and silica. We want to do the same thing, but we want to self-assemble devices. So, we’ve been working with benign microorganisms to get them to display random peptide sequences on their surface. Instead of the 50 million years it took for these organisms to learn how to make shells, we want to have them learn how to make things in a really short period of time, such as days or weeks.
Right now we’re primarily interested in electronics, energy, and medicine. One of our most recent projects has been focusing on how to get organisms, in this case a bacterial virus, to make electrodes for batteries. That’s the project I’ve been working on with Paula Hammond and Yet-Ming Chiang. We’ve been engineering these bacterial viruses to grow cobalt oxide based materials and self-assemble onto an electrolyte to serve as a thin, flexible, lithium ion rechargeable battery.
What can that be used for?
For anything you could use a lithium ion battery for, but ours are going to be very, very thin, and they’re going to be fl exible and transparent. Basically, they’ll look like Saran Wrap. So you could actually integrate them with clothing. You can think about them being transparent in your iPod or cell phone for instance, instead of having an additional thick battery.
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