Monday, October 19, 2009

Israeli Scientists Developing Nanotech Self-Cleaning Surfaces

Israeli scientists may have found a way to significantly improve the efficiencies of solar cells and batteries and reduce the need for cleaning materials:
The development of arrays of self-assembling peptide (protein) nanotubes was the work of Prof. Ehud Gazit of the university's department of molecular microbiology and biotechnology, together with his team of Lihi Adler-Abramovich, Daniel Aronov, Peter Beker, Maya Yevnin, Shiri Stempler, Ludmilla Buzhansky and Gil Rosenman, some of the department of physical electronics. Their innovation appears in the prestigious journal, Nature Nanotechnology.

Gazit was abroad on Sunday, but Adler-Abramovich - who is completing her doctorate in his lab - told The Jerusalem Post that the team has been working on nanotubes for six years and this specific project for two. "We thought of applications when we started, but the results were so impressive during our research that we added more," she said.

Nanotechnology is the study of the control of matter on an atomic and molecular scale and involves structures sized 100 nanometers - each one-billionth of a meter - or smaller.

A very short and inexpensive peptide chain comprised of only two amino acids and easy to synthesize in mass production is the basis of the technology.

"The self-assembly is carried out under high temperatures and in a vacuum. The peptide is as simple as that of aspertame, the artificial sweetener, she said. The nanotubes have the amazing characteristic of assembling themselves to look like "forests" of artificial grass and are hydrophobic, which means that they repel water, as well as dust particles.

Thus, sealed, exterior windows of skyscrapers - which are difficult to clean unless someone rapels up them - would not attract dust, and when it rained, any residual dirt would just drop off without leaving a trace. Solar energy panels made of glass, whose efficiency is greatly reduced by dust because the solar radiation has to filter through, could repel dust if made of ordinary glass with the nanotech coating, said Adler-Abramovich.

Solar-energy "farms" in the desert where there is no rain would be able to repel dust to increase efficiency. If they need to be perfectly clean, a small spray of water on the glass could remove the dirt completely without anyone cleaning them, she said.

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