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US scientists develop ultra-light material stronger than steel

Scientists have fabricated a pure form of glass and coated specialized pieces of DNA to create the high-strength material which is ultra-light and stronger than steel.

Adarsh Srivastava Edited By: Adarsh Srivastava @SriAdarsh_Voice New Delhi Published on: October 01, 2023 13:54 IST
material stronger than steel, dna material
Image Source : FREEPIK Scientists develop material stronger than steel

Researchers from Columbia University, University of Connecticut, and US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory have been able to develop a material that was not only stronger than steel but remarkably lightweight. Scientists have fabricated a pure form of glass and coated specialized pieces of DNA to create the high-strength material.

Materials scientists have combined two unexpected elements – DNA and glass – to create this extraordinary material that surpasses the strength of steel. According to reports, researchers are studying the unique components of DNA to build nanoscale structures. Developing a structure from DNA and then coating it with a very thin layer of glass while leaving the internal spaces open and ensuring that the resulting material is ultra-light could have the potential to produce a long-lasting strong substance.

Creation of DNA Material

Oleg Gang, a materials scientist has spent years using DNA's special features for materials synthesis, leading to a number of breakthroughs. He is a professor at Columbia University and works at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a DOE Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven Lab. A wide range of innovative applications, including electronic and medication delivery, have been inspired by this new technology.

Elaborating on the details of creating the material using the special characteristics of DNA, Aaron Michelson, a Brookhaven postdoctoral researcher, says: “We focused on using DNA as a programmable nanomaterial to form a complex 3D scaffold. And we wanted to explore how this scaffold will perform mechanically when transferred into more stable solid-state materials." 

"We explored having this self-assembling material cast in silica, the main ingredient in glass, and its potential,” he added.

How DNA Frames Have Been Coated

The DNA frames were coated with a very thin silica glass layer that was only a few hundred atoms thick (approximately 5 nm), leaving the inner spaces accessible and ensuring that the final substance is extremely light. On this small scale, the glass is impervious to defects or flaws, providing a strength not found in bigger pieces of glass where cracks form and cause it to shatter. However, the team was interested to know just how strong this material was, and specialised equipment was needed at this scale.

Illustrating the method used to check the strength of these tiny materials, Michelson stated that we utilised a technique called nanoindentation.  Nanoindentation is a mechanical test on a very small scale that is performed using a precision instrument that can apply and measure resistive forces.

"Our samples are only a few microns thick, about a thousandth of a millimetre, so it’s impossible to measure these materials by conventional means. Using an electron microscope and nanoindentation together, we can simultaneously measure mechanical behaviour and observe the process of the compression,” Michelson added.

Research Findings of Glass-coated DNA

As the small device compresses or indents the sample, researchers can take measurements and observe mechanical properties. The scientists discovered that as soon as the contraction was released from the material, the sample returned to its original state. However, this valuable data can be recorded, if a crack forms or if the structure fails at any point.

When put to the test, scientists found that the glass-coated DNA was four times stronger than steel and its density was about five times lower. Scientists said that there are materials that are robust and considered rather lightweight, it has never been achieved to this extent.

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