— An Israeli research team has manufactured new organic
semiconductors using proteins designed from scratch
in the lab and linking them together in precise chains
to create electronic-grade material. The new semiconductors,
called electronic peptides, could lead to lighter,
cheaper and more flexible electronic devices within
the next two years, the researchers say.
The electronic peptides created
by Professor Nir Tessler and colleagues at the Technion-Israel
Institute of Technology could be used in full color,
foldable LED displays with a sharper resolution than
today’s computer screens, and large, flexible solar
cells that spread flat and roll up like a blanket.
The peptides could also be used in sensor devices
that detect tiny amounts of disease molecules in the
body or toxins in the environment.
Researchers can construct the
electronic peptides one building block at a time,
which gives them precise control over the semiconductor’s
properties, such as its ability to produce a particular
color on a flat screen monitor. The block-by-block
approach allows the peptide researcher "to prepare
the material in the same way that electrical engineers
at Intel or IBM prepare a circuit," Tessler says.
"We want 100 percent control that will lead to
close to zero errors."
To build the electronic peptides,
the Technion researchers began by imitating nature.
In human cells and the rest of the biological world,
peptides are created by linking together amino acids,
the basic building blocks of proteins. In the lab,
Tessler and others used an automatic peptide synthesizer
– a computerized machine – to link together artificial
combinations of amino acids and create new peptides
with semiconductor properties.
"Choosing the right building
blocks will give you roughly the properties you are
after, and choosing the right sequence [for the blocks]
will give you exactly what you need," Tessler
"The nice thing about
peptides is that the complexity of attaching one building
block to any other is the same complexity you find
in LEGO bricks," Tessler adds. "You use
only one method to connect them all and you know very
well how to connect them, with no need to invent a
new chemical process every time you want a different
The precision manufacturing
process creates "electronic grade" material,
which means that the material will not lose its response
to electrical signals over time like some other organic
semiconductors, according to Tessler.
Tessler says the peptides could
be integrated into existing electronic devices, and
are not intended as a replacement for the silicon-based
circuitry in today’s computers. The most popular application
for semiconductors like the peptides is in flat screen
displays, since these semiconductors use less energy
than the materials in current computer monitors. Laptop
computers with peptide-powered flat screen displays,
for instance, would need to have their batteries recharged
Professors Tessler, of the
Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Yoav Eichen
of the Faculty of Chemistry and Gadi Schuster of the
Faculty of Biology have received a patent on the electronic
peptides, and a new Israeli company called Peptronics
Ltd. will develop the technology for commercial purposes.
"What we have to do now
is invest a lot of hard work to fully realize the
potential of this new technology. There is no doubt
that we will run into problems sooner or later but
so far, it’s working like magic," Tessler says.
The research is part of the
activities of the Russell Berrie Institute for Research
in Nanotechnology at the Technion.
The Technion-Israel Institute
of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology
university. Home to the country’s only winners of
the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide
reputation for its pioneering work in computer science,
biotechnology, water-resource management, materials
engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority
of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech
companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the
American Technion Society is the leading American
organization supporting higher education in Israel,
with 17 offices around the country.