Scientists at the University of Leeds have perfected a new technique that allows them to make molecular nanowires out of thin strips of ring-shaped molecules known as discotic liquid crystals (DLCs).
The findings could be an important step in the development of next generation electronic devices, such as light-harvesting cells and low-cost biosensors that could be used to test water quality in developing countries.
DLCs are disk-shaped molecules that are one of the more promising candidates for organic electronic devices. However, controlling their alignment has proved challenging to scientists and this has been a major barrier to their use in the liquid crystal display industry and as molecular wires.
The team are hopeful that this level of control could lead to the development of a new type of biosensor, which could test for anything that alters the surface properties.
"By changing the surface properties we can get switch between alignments which is very interesting from the point of view or sensing devices," added Professor Evans. "Most biosensors require a backlight to see when a change has occurred, but it is very easy to see when a liquid crystal has changed direction - you just hold it up to the light.
"This opens up great possibilities for the production of very simple and, more importantly, cheap biosensors that could be widely used in the developing world."