About CBES

The goal of the Center for Bio-inspired Energy Science (CBES) is to develop artificial materials and systems that take inspiration from biology to optimize the way we use energy and interconvert between different energy forms, for example converting chemical energy into mechanical energy the way muscles do in living organisms. Our team members have innovated in the areas of self-assembly, the interface of biology and materials science, as well as in theory and simulation of materials. The proposed research addresses the following two DOE grand challenges: "how do we characterize and control matter away-especially very far away-from equilibrium?" and "how can we master energy and information on the nanoscale to create new technologies with capabilities rivaling those of living things?" Work proposed also addresses DOE’s basic research need for "new science for a secure and sustainable energy future." CBES is scientifically organized into three main thrusts with many inter-thrust connections, which will increase and strengthen throughout the existence of the Center. We expect very strong inter-connectivity among all three groups, yielding outstanding scientific synergy for discovery and ideas.

Materials with Bio-Inspired Functions

Monica Olvera de la Cruz, Leader
Chad A. Mirkin, Co-Leader
In Thrust 1 we focus on materials with biomimetic functions related to inter-conversion between chemical and mechanical energy forms (as muscles do), particles inspired by biological organelles that utilize feedback mechanisms to mediate chemical reactions, and the development of adaptive materials. These targets include the ability to transduce energy, capacity to mediate efficiently synthetic reactions as cells do in ways that chemical laboratories and chemical factories are unable to do presently, and environmental adaptability which is a property of living organisms but currently not observed in synthetic materials. Our team has identified three primary bio-inspired research areas: artificial muscles, artificial organelles, and stimulus-driven adaptive materials.

Colloidal Machines

Sharon C. Glotzer, Leader
Kyle J.M. Bishop, Co-Leader
In Thrust 2 we explore active matter in the form of colloidal machines, which are systems of nanometer to micrometer scale colloids that behave collectively far from equilibrium. Autonomous, responsive machines that carry out complex tasks with minimal energy consumption pose challenges to the laws of thermodynamics, which limit how much energy can be extracted from any process. Miniaturizing machines down to the nanoscale raises both fundamental questions and novel opportunities to perform tasks that mimic or improve upon biological machines. We wish to understand how energy (electromagnetic, chemical, mechanical) inputs at colloidal scales can be harnessed to produce useful functions at the macroscale. These colloidal systems could be used to create propellers, colloidal crystals that change shape, systems that imitate the functions of cellular machines, and most importantly could lead to materials that perform the functions of cells.

Bio-Inspired Transport of Energy and Charge

George Schatz, Leader
Emily Weiss, Co-Leader
Combining theory and experimental work, Thrust 3 will explore artificial matter that could exhibit bio-inspired mechanisms of electron and ion transport, such as those of transmembrane ion pumps, ratchets, and photosynthetic systems. One important goal is to explore the use thermal or light energy to drive electron transport in a specific direction as it occurs in green plants. Transmembrane ion pumps in biology are able to operate with close to 100% efficiency for some conditions. Known artificial machines at the nanoscale have not delivered anything close to this performance. Our theoretical efforts are developing new approaches to the fundamental thermodynamic principles that could enable improved machines based on understanding the interplay between kinetics and thermodynamics governing components in their cycles. These theoretical ideas will motivate the synthesis of nanoscale systems driven by ion and thermal gradients.