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NanoWizard Studies 5300-Year-Old Iceman
May 2010
BERLIN, May 26, 2010 — Studying historical artifacts is always of interest, and when the latest nanotechnology instrumentation is applied to the analysis of ancient materials, the interest rises to a higher level. In the department of earth and environmental sciences at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, scientists are working on nanoscale biomaterials characterization. Their efforts have recently been showcased in a study of mummified skin from the 5300-year-old Tyrolean Iceman.

Marek Janko working with the JPK NanoWizard system at LMU in Munich.

By way of background, skin protects the body from pathogens and degradation. Even mummified skin retains this function. The action of micro-organisms or other external influences may degrade the connective tissue and lay the subjacent tissue open. To determine the degree of tissue preservation in mummified human skin and the reason for its durability, PhD student Marek Janko of professor Robert Stark’s research group has investigated the structural integrity of its main protein, type I collagen, using an atomic force microscope (AFM), the NanoWizard II from JPK Instruments.

Janko’s research focuses on the study of mechanical properties of nanobio materials. AFM and Raman spectroscopy are noninvasive techniques, and samples may be reanalyzed many times.

The choice of the NanoWizard for this work is twofold. The combination of AFM with optical microscopy enables normal histology tissue samples — two to four microns thick and relatively “rough” — to be readily studied in ambient conditions. The optical microscope enables identification of areas for study, and the AFM is used to effectively zoom in on and study individual fibrils on the 10-nanometer scale. Zooming in on and studying a single fibril just 30 to 40 nm in height means the individual repeat units of 67 nm may be identified and probed. This enables nanoindentation studies to be carried out that employ force-versus-distance measurements to measure mechanical properties and, in particular, Young’s modulus.

The work of the Stark research group at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, performed in cooperation with the European Academy of Bolzano, was reported on by JPK Instruments.

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The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
atomic force microscopeBasic ScienceBiophotonicsEuropeEuropean Academy of BolzanoGermanyJPK InstrumentsLudwig Maximilians University in MunichMarek JankoMicroscopymumified human skinnanonanoscale biomaterialnanotechnologyNanoWizardoptical microscopyopticsResearch & TechnologyRobert StarkTyrolean Iceman

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