New measurement into biological polymer networks

Mar 04, 2011
Confocal micrograph of an actin-filamin network. Credit: Kurt Schmoller, Technische Universtaet Muenchen (Technical University of Munich)

(PhysOrg.com) -- The development of a new measurement technology under a research project funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation is probing the structure of composite and biological materials.

"Our results have provided some of the first microscopic insights into a sixty year old puzzle about the way polymeric networks react to repeated shear strains," said Dr. Daniel Blair, Assistant Professor, and principal investigator of the Soft Matter Group in the Department of Physics at Georgetown University.

Blair, Professor Andreas Bausch and other researchers at Technische Universtaet Muenchen (Technical University of Munich) used the muscle filament known as actin to construct a unique polymer network. In their quest to understand more about bio-polymers, they developed the rheometer and confocal microscope system (measures the mechanical properties of materials), which provide a unique and unprecedented level of precision and sensitivity for investigating polymeric systems which were previously too small to visualize during mechanical stress experiments. The rheometer and confocal microscopes clearly visualized the fluorescently labeled actin network and they filmed the polymer filaments'movement in 3-D when was applied.

The rheometer and confocal microscopes, will help to lay the groundwork for future generations of materials that will possibly be used to create synthesized muscle tissue for the Air Force. These materials may even be ideally suited for powering micro-robots.

The rheometer and confocal microscopes enabled the scientists to see the shearing process during the Mullins Effect when biological polymers become dramatically softer as seen in conventional polymers. Moreover, these materials also demonstrate dramatic strengthening in a way that is very different compared to conventional polymeric solids.

The researchers' next steps will be to use the Mullins Effect as a mechanical standard for understanding the properties of composite and biological networks.

"We will use confocal-rheology as a benchmark system for generating new collaborations and expanding the technique to other AFOSR sponsored projects," said Blair. "For example, in collaboration with Dr. Fritz Vollrath of the Oxford Silk Group and Dr. David Kaplan from Tufts University, we are investigating how shear stress influences the formation of silk fibers."

Blair noted that the new technology is impacting a number of other AFOSR supported projects as a platform for investigating the strengthening of nano-composite networks such as carbon nanotubes and cellulose nanofibers embedded in conventional materials.

Blair predicts that there will be possible private sector uses for the new technology in the area of the green revolution and its inherent smart, soft biological materials.

Explore further: Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Provided by Air Force Office of Scientific Research

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Muscle filaments make mechanical strain visible

Dec 20, 2010

Plastics-based materials have been in use for decades. But manufacturers are facing a serious hurdle in their quest for new developments: Substantial influences of the microscopic material structure on mechanical ...

New, unique microscope for nanotech

Dec 09, 2005

UC Davis researchers in nanotechnology, chemistry and biology now have access to one of the most advanced microscopes of its type in the world. The new Spectral Imaging Facility, opened this fall, is a combination of an atomic ...

Soft Materials Buckle Up for Measurement

Jun 22, 2006

Buckling under pressure can be a good thing, say materials scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Writing in the June 13 issue of Macromolecules, they report a new method to evalua ...

Recommended for you

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

17 hours ago

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

17 hours ago

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

A greener source of polyester—cork trees

On the scale of earth-friendly materials, you'd be hard pressed to find two that are farther apart than polyester (not at all) and cork (very). In an unexpected twist, however, scientists are figuring out ...

New clinical trial launched for advance lung cancer

Cancer Research UK is partnering with pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Pfizer to create a pioneering clinical trial for patients with advanced lung cancer – marking a new era of research into personalised medicines ...

'Chief Yahoo' David Filo returns to board

Yahoo announced the nomination of three new board members, including company co-founder David Filo, who earned the nickname and formal job title of "Chief Yahoo."