Chemical processes can be activated by light without the need for bulk heating of a material through a process developed by researchers at Rice University. The technique involves coating nanorods with thermophilic enzymes that are activated at high temperatures. Lighting the plasmonic gold nanorod causes highly localized heating and activates the enzyme. Credit: Lori Pretzer/Rice University


Using light to remotely trigger biochemical reactions

December 13, 2012

(Phys.org)—Since Edison’s first bulb, heat has been a mostly undesirable byproduct of light. Now researchers at Rice University are turning light into heat at the point of need, on the nanoscale, to trigger biochemical reactions remotely on demand.

The method created by the Rice labs of Michael Wong, Ramon Gonzalez and Naomi Halas and reported today in the American Chemical Society journal ACS Nano makes use of materials derived from unique microbes – thermophiles – that thrive at high temperatures but shut down at room temperature.

The Rice project led by postdoctoral fellow Matthew Blankschien and graduate student Lori Pretzer combines enzymes from these creatures with plasmonic gold nanoparticles that heat up when exposed to near-infrared light. That activates the enzymes, which are then able to carry out their functions.

This effectively allows chemical processes to happen at lower temperatures. Because heating occurs only where needed – at the surface of the nanoparticle, where it activates the enzyme – the environment stays cooler.

Blankschien thinks that’s fascinating.

“Basically, we’re getting the benefits of high-temperature manufacturing without needing a high-temperature environment,” said Blankschien, who won the Peter and Ruth Nicholas Postdoctoral Fellowship two years ago to work on these ideas. “The challenge was to keep the higher temperature at the nanoparticle, where the enzyme is activated, from affecting the environment around it.”

The technique holds great potential for industrial processes that now require heat or benefit from remote triggering with light.

Read more: Using light to remotely trigger biochemical reactions — phys.org.

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