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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Innovative cross-disciplinary project aims to create glass coatings for the future

Published: 26 May 2016

A pioneering research project between Biological Sciences and Engineering at the University of Southampton is using bacteria to develop nanoparticles with unique properties. Embedded into glass coatings, the new material would let through light but not heat.

PhD student Tom Mabey has just embarked on the four year interdisciplinary bioengineering assignment, supervised jointly by Dr Xunli Zhang from Engineering and Professor Bill Keevil and Dr Sandra Wilks from Biological Sciences. It is funded by the Defence Science Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

“From a biological perspective we will be looking into how to change the growth conditions of the bacteria to get the results we want,” says Professor Keevil. “We need to know more about which proteins and genes are instrumental in producing nanoparticles absorbing or resisting heat. The project holds great promise.”

“In earlier research, we examined how gold and silver nanoparticles could absorb different wavelengths of light,” adds Dr Zhang. “We are now considering how bacteria can make shape-specific nanoparticles. When embedded into polymer film it would give valuable new properties to glass coatings. This environmentally-friendly, sustainable and energy-efficient process could produce a new type of glass that could absorb heat while letting light pass through without the need to use expensive and toxic chemicals.”

“I wanted to get involved in this research project because it combines both biological and engineering principles,” says Tom, who is a graduate of biochemistry. “There is a lot to learn but I believe it is a very worthwhile subject to explore with many potential applications throughout the world.” He has already presented a poster about his work at a Dstl synthetic biology research showcase event earlier in 2016.

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