Scientists create bionic particles inspired by “Terminator”

The particles -- part synthetic, part biological -- are not cyborg assassins, but aimed at reducing carbon dioxide

Topics: terminator, bionic particle, Carbon Dioxide, Water, Energy, natural gas, , ,

Scientists create bionic particles inspired by "Terminator"

Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh have created the first bionic particles out of proteins and semiconductors. Despite the fact that the scientists were “Inspired by fictional cyborgs like ‘Terminator,’” according to a statement from the University of Michigan, these particles are not Arnold Schwarzenegger-size, and programmed to kill.

Rather their goal is to harness plants’ photosynthesis power of converting light into fuel.

According to the experiment’s leader, Nicholas Kotov, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, previous attempts to convert sunlight into biofuel using synthetic methods or organisms have been inefficient.

The researchers hoped that a bionic particle could hold the solution: part inorganic material, part biological organism.

According to the University of Michigan, the bionic particles “blend the strengths of inorganic materials, which can readily convert light energy to electron energy, with biological molecules whose chemical functions have been highly developed through evolution.”

These particular bionic particles combined materials used in solar panels, the semiconductor cadmium telluride, and a protein found in plants, cytochrome C, which is used to transport electrons during photosynthesis. “With this combination, the semiconductor can turn a ray from the sun into an electron, and the cytochrome C can pull that electron away for use in chemical reactions that could clean up pollution or produce fuel, for instance,” the statement explains.

In the researchers’ experiment, the bionic particle was able to convert nitrate, a common water pollutant associated with fertilizer runoff, into nitrite and oxygen (with the help of other enzymes).

The particles, like those that convert light into energy in plants, were quite rundown after the experiment. The next goal is to make them self-repairing.



Beyond that, one of the researchers’ objectives is for the particle to turn carbon dioxide and water into natural gas. Depending on how water- and energy-intensive the process is, the particle could be a way to recapture carbon dioxide for further energy use. The University of Michigan said the particle would “allow much of the current energy infrastructure to continue working with no net carbon emissions.”

Current methods of acquiring natural gas, such as fracking, can be environmentally unsound.

“These design principles can be used to guide future designs for other bionic systems, starting from the primary building blocks of biological organisms and inorganic machines,” Kotov explained. “It is very possible that Terminator of the future would need to be constructed starting from such building blocks.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Api Étoile

    Like little stars.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Calville Blanc

    World's best pie apple. Essential for Tarte Tatin. Has five prominent ribs.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chenango Strawberry

    So pretty. So early. So ephemeral. Tastes like strawberry candy (slightly).

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Chestnut Crab

    My personal fave. Ultra-crisp. Graham cracker flavor. Should be famous. Isn't.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    D'Arcy Spice

    High flavored with notes of blood orange and allspice. Very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Esopus Spitzenberg

    Jefferson's favorite. The best all-purpose American apple.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Granite Beauty

    New Hampshire's native son has a grizzled appearance and a strangely addictive curry flavor. Very, very rare.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hewes Crab

    Makes the best hard cider in America. Soon to be famous.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Hidden Rose

    Freak seedling found in an Oregon field in the '60s has pink flesh and a fragrant strawberry snap. Makes a killer rose cider.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Knobbed Russet

    Freak city.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Newtown Pippin

    Ben Franklin's favorite. Queen Victoria's favorite. Only apple native to NYC.

    Clare Barboza/Bloomsbury

    Uncommon Apples

    Pitmaston Pineapple

    Really does taste like pineapple.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...