Bacteria taught to spin microscopic gears could make for better solar panels
Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have developed the world's smallest beast of burden: a 5-micron-long bacterium called Bacillus subtilis. These bacteria have been coaxed to turn tiny gears 1 million times heavier than themselves in an experiment researchers hope is a step toward creating new materials and devices that mix tiny chemical cocktails and better harvest and store energy. Scientists at Argonne are interested in materials created using what's called self-assembly--a process by which a chemical or biological system creates complex ordered structures from something that starts out disordered. The method can lead to materials with novel properties, like ones that could snag lots of photons from the sun in a solar panel or trap electrons in a battery. And all this from a bacteria. Who would have thought?