A team led by Dr. Hab. Wiktor Lewandowski, from the Faculty of Chemistry, the University of Warsaw, supported by Dr. Michał Wójcik, the University of Warsaw, and Dr. Guille Gonzalez-Rubio, CIC biomaGUNE, Spain, have developed a new method for creating soft helical (spiral) nanomaterials. Their findings were described in Advanced Materials, a leading scientific journal. The project was implemented under a FIRST TEAM FNP grant.
With its unique structural stability and “natural” dissymmetry (chirality), a helix (the spiral shape of DNA molecules) is one of the most common geometric shapes found in nature, and an inspiration for scientists, artists, and architects. Research into helical systems boomed in 1953, when Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins described the structure of DNA as a double helix. The interest in the structure and functionality of DNA, and the ability to “manipulate” or “engineer” it, has since been very strong, including in nanotechnology. For example, DNA has been used to force nanoparticles to self-assemble in order to develop biosensors or optically functional systems. However, so far it has been very challenging to replicate the dynamism or adaptability of biological structures, which continuously interact with their environment, and are able to function outside the state of equilibrium. “In our research, we addressed this problem by developing a method for creating switchable nanomaterials with a double-helix structure. This was possible by combining a liquid-crystal matrix with nanoparticles which are chemically compatible. With the liquid-crystal matrix, the material can be easily melted and crystallised, similarly to most organic substances. What makes this mixture unique is that as these chemically compatible nanoparticles cool down, the material crystallises in an unprecedented process we can control to make it spontaneously create helical nanofibres with nanoparticles. Our main achievement was, on the one hand, to demonstrate how to ensure this chemical compatibility between the matrix and the nanoparticles, and, on the other hand, to discover and explore the process of crystalisation. We showed that only when both these components are combined can the mixture successfully create helical structures. Therefore, our mixture can be said to exhibit synergic properties, meaning ones which go far beyond the mere sum of its subcomponents,” says Dr. Hab. Wiktor Lewandowski.
What is important from the application point of view is that the resulting material has many characteristics similar to those found in nature – it has a hierarchical, composite form, and local chirality, and its structure can be actively controlled. “In addition, the technology we have developed is relatively easy to scale, which solves a problem frequently found in nanotechnology, i.e. how to scale the resulting material. Helical nanomaterials containing metals are expected to be used in future opto-electronic technologies based on optical chirality. Our solutions have a long way to go to be applied, but the fact that our findings were recognised by the editorial staff of Advanced Materials shows that our materials are considered promising. Currently, we are working to identify the optical properties of the resulting systems and to expand the range of possible subcomponents, meaning liquid crystals and nanoparticles, which could be used in this technology,” added Hab Lewandowski.
Dr. Hab. Wiktor Lewandowski completed his Master’s Degree programme at the Faculties of Biology and Chemistry, the University of Warsaw, and received his PhD. (with Honours) from the Faculty of Chemistry, the University of Warsaw. He completed research fellowships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, USA, the University of Maribor, Slovenia, and CIC biomaGUNE, Spain. He is the laureate of such programmes as START, INTER, and FIRST TEAM, run by the Foundation for Polish Science. Also, he is the beneficiary of grants from National Science Centre and Ministry of Science and Higher Education programmes. In 2012 and 2016, he received a scholarship from the Minister of Science and Higher Education for outstanding achievement.
For more information, visit
Photograph – from the left: Martyna Tupikowska, Bsc, Dr. Hab. Wiktor Lewandowski, and Dr. Michał Wójcik