Chemistry's Borguet recieves NSF grant to explore "molecular wires"
Chemistry’s Eric Borguet has received nearly $500,000 from the National Science Foundation as part of a $2 million collaborative effort to study how electronic charge moves through Peptide Nucleic Acid (PNA).
Electron transfer is a fundamental chemical event critical to natural processes, such as energy conversion in photosynthesis, and to synthetic systems such as transistors. According to Borguet, the project has possible implications for developing molecular-scale electronics and bioelectronics, as well as for establishing the concepts that are of fundamental importance for future advances in these fields.
“PNA is essentially an artificial analog of DNA, but while DNA has a phosphate backbone, PNA has a peptide backbone,” said Borguet. “PNA has the same nucleotides on it as DNA and is not recognized by enzymes, resisting degradation in a wide range of biological and pH environments.”
PNA, which is a nanoscale structure, is essentially a long molecule that acts as molecular wire, said Borguet, an associate professor of chemistry.
“Researchers are interested in using these molecules as the computational building blocks of the future,” he said. “If we can understand how a structure like this transports an electronic charge and learn the rules to optimize this process, we may be able to use PNA to make sensors and molecular computers.”
Through this project, which is being funded through NSF’s highly competitive Collaborative Research in Chemistry Program, Borguet will be collaborating with researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, who create the PNA; the University of Pittsburgh, who are focusing on understanding the transport of electrons through the PNA; and Duke University, who are developing the theory of how the electronic charge moves through the PNA.
“Our contribution is going to be to examine how we can grow films of these PNAs on a surface, and ultimately, how PNA conducts electricity by putting one of these conducting molecules into an insulating layer and using our scanning tunneling microscopes to watch how the electronic charge travels through a single molecule,” Borguet said.
He added that microscopy equipment in his laboratory allows the researchers to actually image single-conducting molecules.
— Preston M. Moretz