Tiny Tentacles: Photo Reveals Amazing Catch-and-Release Nanofibers

Catch-and-Release Nanofibers
Self-assembling nanofibers only ~1/1000th the width of a human hair function as catch-and-release devices as seen in this image from Joanna Aizenberg and her laboratory at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. This image was released Oct. 29, 2013. (Image credit: Cell Picture Show by Joanna Aizenberg, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Do these look like real-life tentacles? Look again.

This seemingly bizarre beast is made of self-assembling nanofibers. Joanna Aizenberg and her laboratory are pioneers of self-assembling nanofibers that function as catch-and-release devices. Here, a scanning-electron microscope image of nanoscale bristles made of epoxy resin and immersed in a liquid. As the bristles dry, they can grab nearby particles, such as the sphere in this image, or a drug. They also store energy and can release the item. That's quite a few functions for something only about 1/1000th the width of a human hair.

The cool contraption is just one example of synthetic biology, a field that works with unnatural molecules and compounds to make tools familiar to natural biology.

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Nina Sen
Nina Sen is a frequent contributor to Live Science’s Life’s Little Mysteries series: an exploration and explanation of our world’s phenomena, both natural and man-made. She also writes astronomy photo stories for Live Science's sister site Space.com.