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Physical Sciences
Research Highlights

March 2010

It Takes Some Chaos To Get Order

Deputy Director of Research at Molecular Foundry discusses material formation at seminar series

Jim DeYoreo
Jim DeYoreo

Creating ordered materials, in nature or in the lab, often requires a level of disorder, according to Dr. Jim DeYoreo, Deputy Director of Research at the Molecular Foundry. DeYoreo discussed his work into the molecular systems that control the formation of S-layer protein crystals and biomineralization to an inquisitive crowd at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Frontiers in Materials Sciences Seminar Series. The series features academic, government, and industrial leaders who discuss novel ideas and advances in research and development.

Research into molecular control systems is a vital part of the research into engineering new energy solutions, such as mass market fuel cells and battery systems for renewable energy solutions. For it is by first determining the molecular control for material formation that scientists can then control those systems. DeYoreo discussed two examples of material formation, one in the laboratory and one in nature.

Inspired by nature: Many living organisms, including the human body, build minerals using molecular templates. Scientists would like to devise self-assembled monolayers that can serve as templates for forming minerals in the laboratory. DeYoreo and his research team found that these highly organized materials form by first creating disordered materials and require templates that are flexible enough to reorganize during this process.

Goldilocks' effect: Looking at self-assembly of prototypical S-layer protein, DeYoreo noted their formation requires just the right amount of nonspecific bonds to be formed. If the bonds are too weak, the proteins cannot condense. If the bonds are too strong, the proteins cannot relax and form ordered structures. This bonding requirement must be considered in models of protein self-assembly.

About Dr. Jim DeYoreo: His research has spanned a range of materials-related disciplines, including low-temperature solid-state physics, geophysics and geochemistry, laser materials, crystal growth, and biomolecular materials. He serves as the Deputy Director of Research at the Molecular Foundry, a user facility at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

DeYoreo has authored, co-authored, or edited more than 150 papers, books, and patents; chaired scientific conferences; and received a 1994 R&D 100 award.  He served on Congressman Honda's Blue Ribbon Panel on Nanotechnology and the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Nanotechnology for the Intelligence Community.

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