Washington: Inspired by mother nature, researchers at University of Southern Mississippi have for the first time, created a new, skinny-molecule-based material that resembles cilia, the tiny, hair-like structures through which organisms derive smell, vision, hearing and fluid flow.
Although the new material is not exactly like cilia, it responds to thermal, chemical, and electromagnetic stimulation, allowing researchers to control it and opening unlimited possibilities for future use.
Cilia are wavy, hair-like structures that extend outward from the surfaces of various organisms such as human skin. People, animals and single-celled organisms use them to sense the environment, gather information about it and adapt to it.
Scientists long imagined what could be done if they could engineer cilia for other organic and nonorganic uses.
Marek Urban, Southern Miss professor of polymer science and engineering, along with a team of researchers, developed a new thin copolymer film with whisker-like formations that mimics Mother Nature.
"Our interest is in developing materials with multi-level responses at various length and time scales. I believe this is the future of science and engineering that will drive future technologies," said Urban.
Employing a process used for years to produce latex paints, the researchers formed thin copolymer-based films whose chemical composition makes possible filaments that have built-in molecular sensors that respond to temperature, acidity and ultraviolet radiation.
In addition, the filaments are capable of locomotion, waving, shrinking and expanding in response to stimuli.
They are also capable of fluorescence, i.e., absorbing and emitting light and changing colours as a reaction to ultraviolet rays.
The ability to engineer this cilia-like biosensor may give scientists an ability to, for example, test for the presence of toxins, oxygen or even lack of oxygen in an environment.
Future opportunities for sensor use might include developing new sensors for testing glucose levels, using the sensors for drug testing, or testing for air or water safety.
There is no limit to dreaming up applications for such a material, said Urban.
"Many new ideas are being generated as we speak, but it is too early to reveal them,” he added.
The finding is published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. (ANI)