Promotie B. Lehner: microbiologie
22 november 2019 10:00 - Locatie: Aula, TU Delft - Door: webredactie
To new frontiers, microbiology for nanotechnology and space exploration. Promotor 1: Prof.dr.ir. H.S.J. van der Zant (TNW); Promotor 2: Dr.ir. S.J.J. Brouns (TNW).
Making bacteria (even more) useful
Most of the time we associate bacteria with illnesses, but this is just only a part of the story. Throughout history, scientists, brewers, and farmers managed to utilize microbes for a variety of products, such as beer, wine, insulin, medications, and biofuels etc. Therefore, bacteria can also be seen as micro-factories and they can be applied in many different ways.
Our research started with a concrete task: producing bulk graphene more sustainably. Graphene is a novel material discovered in 2004 by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov and awarded with the Nobel prize in 2010. Graphene has excellent electronic, optical, and mechanical properties making it attractive for a variety of applications. The only problem remaining is its production, and it is exactly there where our bacteria are doing a great job. Starting with graphite, a very abundant material on earth, we managed to develop a microbially produced graphene. Its properties are not as good as the pristine graphene made by Geim and Novoselov, but we identified a variety of applications (e.g. composite materials, biosensors & conductive inks) where our sustainable microbial production is beneficial.
Conducting this research, we also discovered the utilization of these and other bacteria in the change of rocks to extract elemental iron. This led to collaborations with ESA and NASA, who are highly interested in possibilities to mine and colonize the Moon and Mars. One major problem for any type of settlement is the material needed to build it. Roughly 10-20% of the Lunar Apollo samples consisted of iron oxides, a significant amount to construct and maintain necessary structures. Bacterial extraction directly from the Lunar & Martian ores could be a game-changer. Currently, we are continuing experiments to verify our claim, by trying to make 3-dimensional iron structures for construction purposes from the extracted material. The combination of microbial extraction with new 3D printing technologies might help us to contribute to a new space age, where colonialization of other planets is becoming a reality.
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