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Nature's Versatile Hard Drive

Photonics.com
Aug 2007
LEICESTER, England, Aug. 16, 2007 -- The blueprint of life -- DNA -- could be used to enhance technologies in electronics and information storage.

Glenn Burley, PhD, a researcher at the University of Leicester in Leicester, England, has been awarded one of only eight coveted Advanced Research Fellowships in Chemistry worth £922,000 pounds (about $1.8 million), given annually by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The award will allow the Leicester research to use DNA, the molecule of inheritance, to help build tiny structures for use in technology processes and medicine, the university said in a statment.

"Astonishingly, strands of DNA can be programmed to self assemble into complex arrangements," Burley said. “DNA scaffolds made in this way could be used to hold molecule size electronic devices or be used to build materials with precise configurations."
dnastrand.jpg
Microscopic image of a metallized DNA strand between to electrodes. (Image: Monika Fischler,Ulrich Simon Group, RWTH Aachen)
By altering parts of their structure from one conformation to another, DNA can even be used as a machine, Burley said. ‘It’s amazing that nature’s hard drive can be so versatile. The real challenge now is to harness the potential of DNA in nanotechnology. If we can achieve this, then it will enable us to build devices much smaller than we can be achieved with today’s technology.”

Burley said DNA nanotechnology combines chemistry, biochemistry and physics: “In the near future, devices will contain DNA components alongside traditional electronic components." Other benefits of this technology include reduced cost of device construction and the potential for use in the early diagnosis of genetic diseases.

“We could use the technology to devise new methods of constructing DNA chips that can be used to predict whether a person will be predisposed to a particular disease," he said.

Burley, who is now setting up his laboratory in Leicester, has in the past worked in Germany and Australia and collaborates with research groups at Leicester (departments of physics/astronomy and biochemistry) and maintains links with collaborators in Germany (Walter Schottky Institute) and Italy (University of Modena).

"I’m thrilled to have been given this award that will allow me the time and resources to develop address how we will build tomorrow’s devices that will not impact heavily on the environment," he said. “It is feasible that by the end of this fellowship, we could be in a position to start thinking about a start up company. So the commercialization timeframe is in the region of five years.”

For more information, visit: www.le.ac.uk


GLOSSARY
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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