Nano-science on the white continent

Nieuws | de redactie
12 maart 2013 | Chilean Antarctic researchers found that Antarctic micro-bacteria can synthesize “quantum dots”. These nanoparticles could help generate solar power and make the production of bio-medicines more environmental friendly.

Research conducted by the Andrés Bello University identified microorganisms that lived in the extreme conditions of the Antarctic. The exposure to ultraviolet light and the extreme temperatures of Deception Island, a part of the Antarctic Archipelago where the microorganisms were found, created bacteria with completely different properties than in other climates.

Produced by nature

“We know from laboratory work that these organisms are very resistant and can synthesize metal nanoparticles called ‘quantum dots'”, says biochemist Juan Pablo Monrás Efe, who joined the 49th Chilean Antarctic Expedition that conducted the research. He notes that these nanoparticles are chemically manufactured for over ten years, but the challenge now is to synthesize them naturally.

The fluorescent nature of these small pieces of matter can be useful for applications in biomedicine, with the aim of detecting cancer cells. Since these quantum dots are semiconducting, they can be used to manufacture a new generation of more efficient solar panels and nano-circuits for computer chips.

“Chemically synthesize quantum dots is very complicated and is very expensive”, says Monrás. The costs of quantum dots are over $5.000 an ounce. Another disadvantage of chemically produced quantum dots is that they can’t be used for medicinal purposes since they contain heavy metal alloys from, for example, cadmium.

Not contaminated by humans

Natural quantum dots from the Antarctic open the door to medical applications, and possibly to applications not yet known. “It is an environmental friendly alternative, and op top of that it is less expensive,” concludes John Paul Monrás.

Quantum dots can also be found in other places, like in the Tatio geysers in the Atacama desert, but the Antarctic particles have the advantage that they are more diverse and are less likely to be contaminated by humans. 

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