Researchers at the University of Connecticut have created a very strong and lightweight material by structuring DNA and coating it with a nanolayer of glass. The resulting product, which has a nanolattice structure, exhibits a unique combination of strength and low density, making it potentially useful in many fields of application, writes SciTechDaily.
At first, the team of scientists created a structure of self-assembled DNA, in which pieces of DNA of a certain length and chemical composition are combined into a skeleton of the material. Then they covered the DNA with a very thin layer of glassy material only a few hundred atoms thick. The glass only covers the DNA strands, leaving a large part of the volume empty, which helps to reduce the density of the material, that is, in the future, a mass of ready-made things.
Glass may seem like a very illogical choice for an ultra-hard material, as ordinary, familiar household glass breaks easily. However, this is because we do not know how to make really large pieces of glass without defects in its structure, cracks, scratches or cavities. While small pieces of glass can be made flawless, nanopieces almost always have a flawless structure. But such an impeccable cubic centimeter of glass can withstand a pressure of 10 tons, which is more than three times the pressure that destroyed the Oceangate Titan submarine in June 2023.
The DNA skeleton, reinforced with an ultra-thin layer of flawless glass, made the new material very strong, while the voids that make up most of the material’s volume made it light. As a result, glass nanolattice structures are four times stronger but five times less dense than steel. Such an unusual combination of low weight and high strength is observed for the first time.
“The ability to create designed 3D framework nanomaterials using DNA and mineralize them opens enormous opportunities for engineering mechanical properties. But much research work is still needed before we can employ it as a technology,” says Oleg Gang, one of the inventors of the new material.
Currently, the team is working with the same DNA structure, but replacing the glass with an even stronger carbide ceramic. They plan to experiment with different DNA structures to see which structure will make the material the strongest. Future materials based on this same concept hold great promise as energy-saving materials for vehicles and other devices that require strength and lightness. Seok-Woo Lee, another scientist of this project, believes that DNA origami nanoarchitecture will open the way to create new lighter and stronger materials that we have not even imagined before.