Teeny Tiny Dreadlocks: Knots On A Nano Scale

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Under the right conditions, nano-sized synthetic fibers will spontaneously twist together to form intricate and beautiful braids. To the researcher who studies them, the nano knots evoke Medusa's braids. What do they look like to you?


Joining us now is Flora Lichtman, our producer for digital media. Hi, Flora.


FLATOW: You're here with our video Pick of the Week.

LICHTMAN: Yes, the Pick of the Week.

FLATOW: Pick of the Week. What have you got for us today?

LICHTMAN: Well - so, we were just talking about things that were - something that was very big.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: And the Pick of the Week is about something that's very small - nano-dreadlocks.

FLATOW: Nano-dreadlocks. This is something we mentioned earlier in the program. And we're going to mention it later, too, so

LICHTMAN: Right, right. They are these tiny hairs.

FLATOW: Right.

LICHTMAN: And in certain circumstances, researchers have been able to coax them into braiding themselves. And they have these beautiful images that - you know, to the researcher who studies them, that's Joanna Aizenberg - she describes them as sort of Medusa's braids or maybe an alien creature. I thought they look kind of like lichen, some of them actually - just repetitive patterns. But they're fun to look at.

FLATOW: And she coaxes them into becoming

LICHTMAN: Into twisting themselves.

FLATOW: Twisting. Wow. And you just got - you have some great photos of them twisting?

LICHTMAN: Yes. So, we have photos of the sort of final twists, the tangles, the nano-knots, I guess you'd call them, and also some footage of them twisting in real time.

FLATOW: And so, these are like - these are truly microscopic because they're nano- particles.

LICHTMAN: Right, that's true.

FLATOW: And she thinks that she can make some useful stuff out of this?

LICHTMAN: Yeah. I mean, there are some neat possible applications, like energy storage. So, in these coils, bundled up, is this energy, and if you can figure out how to make them coil and then make them uncoil, you could use that as an energy storage device.

FLATOW: Or if you can figure out how to get them to coil around something else, you have an adhesive.

LICHTMAN: Velcro, mini-Velcro.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: (Laughing) Nano-Velcro.


FLATOW: Thank you, Flora.


FLATOW: Flora Lichtman, producer for digital media, talking about the video Pick of the Week at sciencefriday.com. Look for all our videos up there. It will be up there on the Web site, right on the left side of the page, our video Pick of the Week.

(Soundbite of acknowledgment)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow in New York.

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