Working on an atomic scale, scientists at Northwestern's Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine create molecules that assemble themselves into structures that could deliver healing compounds to injured parts of the body, or even stimulate the body's own healing mechanisms. The molecular graphics representation at left shows one such biologically active nanofiber formed by self-assembly. Stupp is particularly excited about the recent discovery that when bundles of certain self-assembled nanofibers are heated, cooled, and exposed to salts, they form what he calls a "noodle gel," in which living cells can survive. Stupp hopes the noodle gel could transform treatment of degenerative brain disorders like Parkinson's disease.
A version of this article appeared in the February 2011 issue of Fast Company magazine.