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Nanoscale Self-Assembling Salt-Crystal ‘Origami’ Balls Envelop Liquids
Mechanical engineers have devised a ‘crystal capillary origami’ technique where salt crystals spontaneously encapsulate liquid droplets Researchers have developed a technique whereby they can spontaneously encapsulate microscopic droplets of water and oil emulsion in a tiny sphere made of salt crystals—sort of like a minute, self-constructing origami soccer ball filled with liquid. The process, which they are calling ‘crystal capillary origami,’ could be used in a range of fields from more precise drug delivery to nanoscale medical devices.The technique is described in a paper appearing in the journal Nanoscale on September 21. Capillary action, or ‘capillarity,’ will be familiar to most people as the way that water or other liquids can move up narrow tubes or other porous materials seemingly in defiance of gravity (for example within the vascular systems of plants, or even more simply, the drawing up of paint between the hairs of a paintbrush). This effect is due to the forces of cohesion (the tendency of a liquid’s molecules to stick together), which results in surface tension, and adhesion (their tendency to stick to the surface of other substances). The strength of the capillarity depends on the chemistry of the liquid, the chemistry of the porous material, and on the other forces acting on them both. For example, a liquid with lower surface tension than water would not be able to hold up a water strider insect. Less well known is a related phenomenon, elasto-capillarity, that takes advantage of the relationship between capillarity and the elasticity of a very tiny flat sheet of a solid material. In certain circumstances, the capillary forces can overcome the elastic bending resistance of the sheet. This relationship can be exploited to create ‘capillary origami,’ or three-dimensional structures. When a liquid droplet is placed on the flat sheet, the latter can spontaneously encapsulate the former due to surface tension. Capillary origami can take on other forms including wrinkling, buckling, or self-folding into other shapes. The specific geometrical shape that the 3D capillary origami structure ends up taking is determined by both the chemistry of the flat sheet and that of the liquid, and by carefully designing the shape and size of the sheet. There is one big problem with these small devices, however. “These conventional self-assembled origami structures cannot be completely spherical and will always have discontinuous boundaries, or what you might call ‘edges,’ as a result of the original two-dimensional shape of the sheet,” said Kwangseok Park, a lead researcher on the project. He added, “These edges could turn out to be future defects with the potential for failure in the face of increased stress.” Non-spherical particles are also known to be more disadvantageous than spherical particles in terms of cellular uptake. Professor Hyoungsoo Kim from the Department of Mechanical Engineering explained, “This is why researchers have long been on the hunt for substances that could produce a fully spherical capillary origami structure.” The authors of the study have demonstrated such an origami sphere for the first time. They showed how instead of a flat sheet, the growth of salt-crystals can perform capillary origami action in a similar manner. What they call ‘crystal capillary origami’ spontaneously constructs a smooth spherical shell capsule from these same surface tension eﬀects, but now the spontaneous encapsulation of a liquid is determined by the elasto-capillary conditions of growing crystals. Here, the term ‘salt’ refers to a compound of one positively charged ion and another negatively charged. Table salt, or sodium chloride, is just one example of a salt. The researchers used four other salts: calcium propionate, sodium salicylate, calcium nitrate tetrahydrate, and sodium bicarbonate to envelop a water-oil emulsion. Normally, a salt such as sodium chloride has a cubical crystal structure, but these four salts form plate-like structures as crystallites or ‘grains’ (the microscopic shape that forms when a crystal first starts to grow) instead. These plates then self-assemble into perfect spheres. Using scanning electron microscopy and X-ray diﬀraction analysis, they investigated the mechanism of such formation and concluded that it was ‘Laplace pressure’ that drives the crystallite plates to cover the emulsion surface. Laplace pressure describes the pressure difference between the interior and exterior of a curved surface caused by the surface tension at the interface between the two substances, in this case between the salt water and the oil. The researchers hope that these self-assembling nanostructures can be used for encapsulation applications in a range of sectors, from the food industry and cosmetics to drug delivery and even tiny medical devices. -Publication Kwangseok Park, Hyoungsoo Kim “Crystal capillary origami capsule with self-assembled nanostructure,” Nanoscale, 13(35), 14656-14665 (DOI: 10.1039/d1nr02456f) -Profile Professor Hyoungsoo Kim Fluid and Interface Laboratory http://fil.kaist.ac.kr Department of Mechanical Engineering KAIST
Cross-Generation Collaborative Labs Open
KAIST opened two cross-generation collaborative labs last month. This novel approach will pair up senior and junior faculty members for sustaining research and academic achievements even after the senior researcher retires. This is one of the Vision 2031 innovation initiatives established to extend the spectrum of knowledge and research competitiveness. The selected labs will be funded for five years and the funding will be extended if necessary. KAIST will continue to select new labs every year. A five-member selection committee including the Nobel Laureates Professor Klaus Von Klitzing at the Max-Planck Institute for Solid State Research and Dr. Kurt Wüthrich from ETH Zürich selected the first two labs with senior-junior pairs in March. (Two renowned scholars' Cross-Generation Collaborative Labs which opened last month. Distinguished Professor Lee's lab (above) andChair Professor Sung's lab) Both labs are run by world-renowned scholars: the Systems Metabolic Engineering and Systems Healthcare Laboratory headed by Distinguished Professor Sang-Yup Lee in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Acousto-Microfluidics Research Center for Next-Generation Healthcare led by Chair Professor Hyung Jin Sung in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Distinguished Professor Lee will be teamed up with Professor Hyun Uk Kim, and their lab aims to mass produce new eco-friendly chemical materials as well as higher-value-added materials which will be used for medicine. The new platform technologies created in the lab are expected to provide information which will benefit human healthcare. Meanwhile, the Acousto-Microfluidics Research Center for Next-Generation Healthcare will team up with Professors Hyoungsoo Kim and Yeunwoo Cho under Chair Professor Sung. The lab will conduct research on controlling fluids and objects exquisitely on a micro-nano scale by using high-frequency acoustic waves. The lab plans to develop a next-generation healthcare platform for customized diagnoses as well as disease treatment. KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin, who introduced this novel idea in his research innovation initiative, said that he hopes the Cross-Generation Collaborative Labs will contribute to honoring senior scholars’ research legacies and passing knowledge down to junior researchers in order to further develop their academic achievements. He said, “I sincerely hope the labs will make numerous research breakthroughs in the very near future.”
Scientist of November, Professor Hyung Jin Sung
Professor Hyung Jin Sung from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at KAIST received a ‘Science and Technology Award of the Month’ given by the Ministry of ICT and Science and the National Research Foundation of Korea for November 2017. He developed technology that can exquisitely control a micrometer-scaled liquid drop on a dime-sized lab-on-a-chip. With his work, he was recognized for reinforcing research capability on microfluidics. Lab-on-a-chip is an emerging experiment and diagnostic technology in the form of a bio-microchip that facilitates complex and various experiments with only a minimal sample size required. This technology draws a lot of attention not only from medical and pharmaceutical areas, but also the health and environmental field. The biggest problem was that technology for the temperature control of a fluid sample, which is one of the core technologies in microfluidics, has low accuracy. This limit had to be overcome in order to use the lab-on-a-chip more widely. Professor Sung developed an acoustic and thermal method which controls the temperature of a droplet quickly and meticulously by using sound and energy. This is a thermal method that uses heat generated during the absorption of an acoustic wave into viscoelastic substances. It facilitates a rapid heating rate and spatial-temporal temperature control, allowing heating in desired areas. In addition, Professor Sung applied his technology to polymerase chain reactions, which are used to amplify DNA. Through this experiment, he successfully shortened the reaction time from 1-2 hours to only three minutes, making this a groundbreaking achievement. Professor Sung said, “My research is significant for enhancing the applicability of microfluidics. I expect that it will lead to technological innovations in healthcare fields including biochemistry, medical checkups, and new medicine development.”
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