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Professor Tu Creates Materials That Mimic Nature
Abalone shell is a tough, rigid material with a luminescent sheen. CCNY Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Raymond Tu has received a three-year $300,000 grant from the U.S. Air Force to investigate use of naturally occurring organic molecules to create templates for making non-natural inorganic materials that can mimic those properties. The theory is to use a small protein molecule known as a peptide to “template” order onto non-organic molecules, he explains. “If we correctly mimic nature, we will be able to know precisely where each chemical function resides in space.” Professor Tu wants to design an architecture for an amphiphile molecule, i.e. one that has both hydrophilic (water soluble) and hydrophobic (water repellant) properties, whereby the peptide would control the assembly of crystalline structures of zinc sulfate, an inorganic compound. The aim of the investigation is to control for photoluminescence, i.e. the material’s response to light. “If we can match the spacing of zinc atoms in the crystal with spaces in the peptide, we will be able to create the template we desire.”
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