Protein display

An Israeli research team has manufactured new organic semiconductors materials using proteins linked together in chains.

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 colour, 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.

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 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 explained.

The manufacturing process creates “electronic grade” material, which means that the material will not lose its properties over time like some other organic semiconductors, according to Tessler.

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 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 said.

The research is part of the activities of the Russell Berrie Institute for Research in Nanotechnology at the Technion.