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Large energy savings for small machines



  Large energy savings for small machines
Simon Fraser University's physics graduate student Steven Large, left, and Professor David Sivak model the folded and unfolded states of a DNA hairpin. Credit: SFU

Inside all of us are trillions of small molecular nanomachines that perform a variety of tasks necessary to keep us alive.


In a groundbreaking study, a team led by SFU physics professor David Sivak demonstrated for the first time a strategy for manipulating these machines to maximize efficiency and save energy. The breakthrough could have branches across a number of areas, including creating more efficient computer chips and solar cells for energy generation.

Nanomachines are small, really small ̵

1; a few billion meters wide. They are also quick and able to perform complex tasks: ranging from moving materials around a cell, building and breaking down molecules, and treating and expressing genetic information.

The machines can perform these tasks while consuming a lot of energy, so a theory that predicts energy efficiency helps us understand how these microscopic machines work and what goes wrong when they break down, Sivak says.

In the laboratory, Sivak's experimental partners manipulated a DNA hairpin whose folding and unfolding mimics the mechanical movement of several complicated molecular machines. As predicted by Sivak's theory, they found that maximum efficiency and minimal energy loss occurred if they quickly penetrated the hairpin when it was folded, but slowly, as it was on the edge of unfolding.

Steven Large, an SFU physics graduate student and co-author of the paper for the first time, explains that DNA hairpins (and nanomachines) are so small and floppy that they are constantly exerted by violent collisions with surrounding molecules.

"Let the jostle unfold the hairpin for you is an energy and time saver," says Large.

Sivak believes that the next step is to apply the theory to learn how to drive a molecular machine through its operating cycle, while reducing the energy required to do so.

So what is the benefit of making nanomachines more effective? Sivak says potential applications can change games in a number of areas.

"Applications can include designing more efficient computer chips and computer memory (reducing power requirements and the heat they emit), making better renewable energy materials for processes like artificial photosynthesis (increasing energy harvested from the sun) and improving autonomy biomolecular machines for biotech applications such as medicine. Delivery. "

The study was published in Procedures of the National Academy of Sciences.


How nanomaker swarms could improve the efficiency of any machine


More information:
Sara Tafoya et al., Applying the system's equilibrium behavior to reduce its energy dissipation in equilibrium processes, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019). DOI: 10,1073 / pnas.1817778116

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Simon Fraser University

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Large energy savings for small machines (2019, May 22)
May 23, 2019
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