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Scientists from Finland and Israel have found a way to enable nano-scaled hinges to move. This marks the next step in the development of what are known as molecular machines. This will ultimately make it possible to develop new therapeutic approaches in e.g. medicine.

Until now it has not been possible to control these kinds of nanomachines. The team of researchers from Aalto University in Finland and the Weizmann Institute in Israel have succeeded in creating a structure that opens and closes like a hinge on command. “It’s a bit like origami, that Japanese art of folding,” according to the researchers.

Switching with light

In order to be able to build such a hinge, the scientists opted for the use of DNA. DNA not only carries genetic codes, but can also take on many different forms: the nano-hinges are contained in a solution that becomes more acidic when light shines on it. The increasing acidity of the solution causes chemical bonds to form in the ends of the hinges thereby closing the hinges,” says Finnish scientist Joonas Ryssy. “When the light is turned off, the acidity of the solution is reversed, causing the bonds between the ends to break and the hinges to open again.” Only one light source is needed for that switching.

The results were published in the professional journal Angewandte Chemie. The research is a follow-up of earlier studies by the same group on the manipulation of macromolecules. The use of light to control the hinge is an attractive option because it can be done remotely.

Anton Kuzyk, professor at Aalto University: “If we don’t want all the hinges to close, we reduce the amount of light. This level of control is an exciting feature of our system that sets it apart from others.”

Read other IO articles on nanotechnology here.

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About the author

Arnoud Cornelissen has for many years been writing about science and technology in, among others, various Dutch newspapers.