Creating new microscopes, robots and energy harvesters by harnessing biomolecules and microorganisms
Prof. Özgür Şahin, Columbia University
Date: Wednesday, June 11, 2014
I will present two cases where confinement in biological systems may lead to interesting technological applications. In one case, we work with short complementary DNA strands and allow them approximately 10 microseconds to hybridize. This treatment turns DNA into a sensitive mechanical imaging probe, which allows reconstruction of the three-dimensional locations of chemical groups inside biomolecular complexes. In the second case, we exploit water confinement in bacterial spores that allows harvesting energy from evaporating water. We have found that spores exhibit higher actuation energy densities compared to state of the art materials used in robotics. Using spores, we have built electrical generators that exhibit a unique capability; they harvest energy from a standing body of water without direct physical contact. This development may allow tapping into natural evaporation as a source of renewable energy.
Özgur Şahin investigates biological systems at physical extremes to draw inspirations for innovations in biomedicine, energy, and the environment. As an Associate Professor of Biological Sciences and Physics at Columbia University, Sahin is best recognized for inventing a special nanoscale microscope that can visualize mechanical properties of molecules and materials, which is now being used by academic and industrial research labs for diverse applications in biological imaging and advanced materials design. His research group is investigating hydration based nanomechanical energy conversion in biological structures, developing new nanomechanical approaches to determine structures of biomolecular complexes, and studying the role of various mechanical processes in cell physiology. Sahin is the recipient of a Grand Prize at the Collegiate Inventors Competition, a Packard Fellowship, a DOE Early Career Award, a New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health, and a Junior Fellowship from the Rowland Institute at Harvard.