A new method uses novel synthetic proteins to create semiconductor quantum dots, particles that have useful electronic and optical properties.
Quantum dots have a variety of applications, including in biomedicine, solar energy and electronics. However, they are expensive to produce and require use of toxic solvents that are harmful to the environment.
Now, researchers have uncovered a cost effective and environmentally sustainable method of producing quantum dots using artificial proteins. The idea came from combining two seemingly unrelated fields.
Michael Hecht and his team are interested in imagining how life forms could evolve differently from how life evolved on Earth. To explore this question, the team creates artificial DNA from which they produce artificial proteins. In another lab, Professor Gregory Scholes leads work on quantum dots. Postdoctoral researcher
Leah Spangler, now an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, drew a connection between the two projects. Spangler discovered that one of the artificial proteins could catalyze a reaction to create quantum dots using water rather than toxic chemicals.
Quantum dots are fluorescent and may help cancer researchers visibly trace cancer growth. Another application could be in solar energy production. Since the dots are cheaper to produce than silicon solar cells, they have the potential for wider applications, such in window films that capture sunlight and generate solar energy.
“What I find exciting is how this discovery marries two completely different fields that nobody would think of combining in the same lab.” — Michael Hecht
Leah Spangler, Virginia Commonwealth University
Sarangan Chari, Senior Chemist
Gregory Scholes, William S. Tod Professor of Chemistry, Chair of the Department of Chemistry; Nan Yao, Senior Research Scholar, Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials and Director, Imaging and Analysis Center
Graduate student Yueyu Yao; Associate Research Scholar Guangming Cheng
Patent pending. Princeton is seeking outside interest for the development of this technology.
National Science Foundation, Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
New Ventures and Licensing Associate