Subscribe to our free daily newsletters
. 24/7 Space News .




Subscribe to our free daily newsletters



TECH SPACE
New understanding of how shape and form develop in nature
by Staff Writers
Cambridge, UK (SPX) Dec 11, 2015


Morphogenesis. Image courtesy Stoyan Smoukov. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Researchers have developed a new method for generating complex shapes, and have found that the development of form in nature can be driven by the physical properties of materials themselves, in contrast with earlier findings. The results, reported in the journal Nature, could enable the construction of complex structures from simple components, with potential applications in pharmaceuticals, paints, cosmetics and household products such as shampoo.

Using a simple set-up - essentially droplets of oil in a soapy water solution which were slowly frozen - the researchers found that recently-discovered 'plastic crystal' phases formed on the inside surfaces of the droplets cause them to shape-shift into a wide variety of forms, from octahedrons and hexagons to triangles and fibres.

Previous efforts to create such complex shapes and structures have used top-down processing methods, which allow a high degree of control, but are not efficient in terms of the amount of material used or the expensive equipment necessary to make the shapes. The new method, developed by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Sofia University in Bulgaria, uses a highly efficient, extremely simple bottom-up approach to create complex shapes.

"There are many ways that non-biological things take shape," said Dr Stoyan Smoukov from Cambridge's Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy, who led the research. "But the question is what drives the process and how to control it - and what are the links between the process in the biological and the non-biological world?"

Smoukov's research proposes a possible answer to the question of what drives this process, called morphogenesis. In animals, morphogenesis controls the distribution of cells during embryonic development, and can also be seen in mature animals, such as in a growing tumour.

In the 1950s, the codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing proposed that morphogenesis is driven by reaction-diffusion, in which local chemical reactions cause a substance to spread through a space. More recent research, from Smoukov's group and others, has proposed that it is physical properties of materials that control the process. This possibility had been anticipated by Turing, but it was impossible to determine using the computers of the time.

What this most recent research has found is that by slowly freezing oil droplets in a soapy solution, the droplets will shape-shift through a variety of different forms, and can shift back to their original shape if the solution is re-warmed. Further observation found that this process is driven by the self-assembly of a plastic crystal phase which forms beneath the surface of the droplets.

"Plastic crystals are a special state of matter that is like the alter ego of the liquid crystals used in many TV screens," said Smoukov.

Both liquid crystals and plastic crystals can be thought of as transitional stages between liquid and solid. While liquid crystals point their molecules in defined directions like a crystal, they have no long-range order and flow like a liquid. Plastic crystals are wax-like with long-range order in their molecular arrangement, but disorder in the orientation of each molecule. The orientational disorder makes plastic crystals highly deformable, and as they change shape, the droplets change shape along with them.

"This plastic crystal phase seems to be what's causing the droplets to change shape, or break their symmetry," said Smoukov. "And in order to understand morphogenesis, it's vital that we understand what causes symmetry breaking."

The researchers found that by altering the size of the droplets they started with or the rate that the temperature of the soapy solution was lowered, they were able to control the sequence of the shapes the droplets ended up forming. This degree of control could be useful for multiple applications - from pharmaceuticals to household goods - that use small-droplet emulsions.

"The plastic crystal phase has been of intense scientific interest recently, but no one so far has been able to harness it to exert forces or show this variety of shape-changes," said the paper's lead author Professor Nikolai Denkov of Sofia University, who first proposed the general explanation of the observed transformations.

"The phenomenon is so rich in combining several active areas of research that this study may open up new avenues for research in soft matter and materials science," said co-author Professor Slavka Tcholakova, also of Sofia University.

"If we're going to build artificial structures with the same sort of control and complexity as biological systems, we need to develop efficient bottom-up processes to create building blocks of various shapes, which can then be used to make more complicated structures," said Smoukov. "But it's curious to observe such life-like behaviour in a non-living thing - in many cases, artificial objects can look more 'alive' than living ones."

Denkov, Nikolai et. al. 'Self-Shaping of Droplets via Formation of Intermediate Rotator Phases upon Cooling.' Nature (2015). DOI: 10.1038/nature16189.

Thanks for being here;
We need your help. The SpaceDaily news network continues to grow but revenues have never been harder to maintain.

With the rise of Ad Blockers, and Facebook - our traditional revenue sources via quality network advertising continues to decline. And unlike so many other news sites, we don't have a paywall - with those annoying usernames and passwords.

Our news coverage takes time and effort to publish 365 days a year.

If you find our news sites informative and useful then please consider becoming a regular supporter or for now make a one off contribution.

SpaceDaily Contributor
$5 Billed Once


credit card or paypal
SpaceDaily Monthly Supporter
$5 Billed Monthly


paypal only

.


Related Links
University of Cambridge
Space Technology News - Applications and Research






Comment on this article via your Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail login.

Share this article via these popular social media networks
del.icio.usdel.icio.us DiggDigg RedditReddit GoogleGoogle

Previous Report
TECH SPACE
Penn researchers make thinnest plates that can be picked up by hand
Philadelphia, PA (SPX) Dec 09, 2015
Scientists and engineers are engaged in a global race to make new materials that are as thin, light and strong as possible. These properties can be achieved by designing materials at the atomic level, but they are only useful if they can leave the carefully controlled conditions of a lab. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have now created the thinnest plates that can be picked up and ... read more


TECH SPACE
Gaia's sensors scan a lunar transit

SwRI scientists explain why moon rocks contain fewer volatiles than Earth's

All-female Russian crew starts Moon mission test

Russian moon mission would need 4 Angara-A5V launches

TECH SPACE
Mars Mission Team Addressing Vacuum Leak on Key Science Instrument

Letter to Mars? Royal Mail works it out for British boy, 5

European payload selected for ExoMars 2018 surface platform

ExoMars has historical, practical significance for Russia, Europe

TECH SPACE
Australia seeks 'ideas boom' with tax breaks, visa boosts

Orion's power system to be put to the test

The Ins and Outs of NASA's First Launch of SLS and Orion

Aerojet Rocketdyne tapped for spacecraft's crew module propulsion

TECH SPACE
China's indigenous SatNav performing well after tests

China launches Yaogan-29 remote sensing satellite

China's scientific satellites to enter uncharted territory

China to launch Dark Matter Satellite in mid-December

TECH SPACE
Getting Into the Flow on the ISS

Orbital to fly first space cargo mission since 2014 explosion

Russian-US Space Collaboration Intact Despite Chill in Bilateral Ties

ISS EarthKAM ready for student imaging request

TECH SPACE
Orbital cargo ship blasts off toward space station

Virgin Galactic Welcomes 'Cosmic Girl' To Fleet Of Space Access Vehicles

DXL-2: Studying X-ray emissions in space

Arianespace selected to launch Azerspace-2/Intelsat 38 satellites

TECH SPACE
What kinds of stars form rocky planets

Half of Kepler's giant exoplanet candidates are false positives

Exiled exoplanet likely kicked out of star's neighborhood

Neptune-size exoplanet around a red dwarf star

TECH SPACE
Penn researchers make thinnest plates that can be picked up by hand

World's tiniest temperature sensor can track movement from inside cement

Researchers discover mother of pearl production process

In-Space Manufacturing Prototype




Memory Foam Mattress Review
Newsletters :: SpaceDaily :: SpaceWar :: TerraDaily :: Energy Daily
XML Feeds :: Space News :: Earth News :: War News :: Solar Energy News






The content herein, unless otherwise known to be public domain, are Copyright 1995-2017 - Space Media Network. All websites are published in Australia and are solely subject to Australian law and governed by Fair Use principals for news reporting and research purposes. AFP, UPI and IANS news wire stories are copyright Agence France-Presse, United Press International and Indo-Asia News Service. ESA news reports are copyright European Space Agency. All NASA sourced material is public domain. Additional copyrights may apply in whole or part to other bona fide parties. All articles labeled "by Staff Writers" include reports supplied to Space Media Network by industry news wires, PR agencies, corporate press officers and the like. Such articles are individually curated and edited by Space Media Network staff on the basis of the report's information value to our industry and professional readership. Advertising does not imply endorsement, agreement or approval of any opinions, statements or information provided by Space Media Network on any Web page published or hosted by Space Media Network. Privacy Statement