Exploring the Lotus Effect using Candle Soot

Also, this Instructable is the results of some home experiments that I did some time ago (see also my previous article). It shows how to prepare these simple surfaces and make some interesting observations with them. Like the previous two Instructables, my family help me a lot in preparing it in the very short time of one day. So a big thank you to my wife, Francesco, and, in particular, to Leonardo.

Hydrophobic and super-hydrophobic surfaces are ubiquitous in the natural world. You do not need to search much to find good examples: just walk out in your garden after a light rain and look at the plenty of weed leaves pearly decorated by water droplets. If you have an ornamental pond, you may have even the chance to see floating better examples of plants having a super-hydrophobic surface. Notably, wettability in Nature is present in a different form that subtle differences in the function and effect on the water droplets. Plant leaves need to keep their surfaces clean for light-harvesting efficiency. A water repellent leaves let water drops roll over its surface and mechanically remove dust particles. This effect was first noted on leaves of the Lotus plant, and for that reason, it is also called the Lotus effect.

Several novel technological materials exploit the properties of super-hydrophobic. For example, in your kitchen, Teflon pans are used to avoid sticking food residuals and therefore easily cleaned. Your car windows are teated to let the water easily roll over the surface. 

Candle soot is an artificial material that is easy to produce and can be used to demonstrate some of the properties of the (super)-hydrophobic surface existing in nature.

The Mighty Roto-Microscope

I am happy to announce our second Instructable project. Like the first one, it was a long-standing idea that was rolling in my mind for a long time. The current limited travelling mobility due to the COVID offered more time to develop this idea during my vacation. In a joyful collaboration with my son Leonardo, we managed to realize this useful device in a very short time.

This project aimed to develop a device that integrated with a cheap USB microscope allows taking 3D pictures of small samples. The project is meant to be an education STEM activity to learn using Arduino, 3D image reconstruction, and 3D printing by creating a useful piece of equipment for doing some exciting science activity. Like my previous project, it is also a moment to share good and educative time with my family and in particular, my elder son Leonardo that helped me in creating this instructable and evaluating the device as an enthusiastic STEM student. This time, also my lovely wife helps me to make a video of the assembly of the equipment!

The roto-microscope allows controlling the position of a simple USB microscope around the sample. This allows to take accurate pictures from different angles and not just from the top as in the traditional microscopes. This is not a new idea as there are professional microscopes. However, this device means to be affordable for a student and still provides some similar results and a lot of fun in building it. Other similar and excellent OpenSource projects are available (see, for example, the Ladybug microscope, the Lego microscope, and the OpenScan project), our project adds an additional option and I hope that you enjoy making it as we did!

If you find it an interesting device then instructions on how to build it are on our Instructable.

The Magic Sand Slicer

We have published for the first time a project on Instructables: a website specialised in publishing interesting DIY projects by an effervescent community of makers and educators.

The project is called the Magic-Sand Slicer and it is an education project initially conceived as a STEM activity to learn using Arduino, a 3D printer, and some exciting science. It is also a collaboration with my son Leonardo who helped me in evaluating the device as a STEM student. We have learned a lot together, and we want to share the results of this long journey. This project aims to create a device that automatically makes sections of a cylinder of easy-to-cut coloured material. That can be used for practising 3D image reconstruction of the coloured blogs hidden in the column. The so-called Magic-Sand (c), also known with other trademarks names, becomes suitable for this experiment.
What is the point of making pictures of thin layers of sand and then reconstructing it digitally? Is it just for the fun of it? It varies on who is using it. However, students and teachers from different disciplines (e.g. geology, biology, medical) can find it a helpful education device to practice with image reconstruction from the serial sections. It could also be of interest to a geologist interested in sedimentary material plasticity to study rock and the secrets it beholds, or to a process, engineering to emulate the packing of fine granular materials. Finally, an artist can make a fantastic program of unravelling magic forms generated by packing coloured sand. 

I was surprised that the project got so much interest in a very short time and I thank the Instructable community for their nice welcome! If you like to know more about the project (and try it!) then you can read our instructable here.

I also just realized that the Instructable was reviewed on the Arduino blog site by the Arduino team!

Seminar Series: Molecular Dynamics Simulation of Biomolecules (Bremen 2004)

In this new series of posts, I will report the slides of some of the seminars/lessons that I have delivered in the past years. Some of the information is updated but still, there is a wealth of useful information. In some cases, I have also added descriptions of the contents of the slides for others you can refer to other posts or the original paper that I describe my research results.

I hope you enjoy them and remember to add your feedback and to subscribe to have email notifications about my new blog posts.

In the year 1648, Isaac Newton published his first edition of the Principia Mathematica, one of the greatest scientific masterpieces of all time. On page 12 of this magnum opus, the famous three laws that bear his name and from which classical mathematical physics evolved are enunciated. More than 350 years after that publication, the same laws, formulated to explain the motion of stars and planets, still remain valuable for us, when trying to simplify the description of the atomic world. In the first decades of the last century, the birth of quantum mechanics marked the beginning of the exact description of atomic physics. The equation of Schrödinger, to the same extent as Newton’s equations, allowed for the mathematically elegant formulation of the shining theoretical intuitions and the experimental data accumulated in the previous decades. Although in principle, this equation could be used in order to describe the physicochemical behaviour of any molecular system, it turns out to be impossible to resolve analytically, when the number of electrons in-game is larger than two. The invention of electronic computers, after World War II, facilitated the numerical solution of this equation for polyatomic systems. However, despite the continuous and rapid development of computer performance, the ab-initio quantum-mechanical approach to describe static and dynamic properties of molecules containing hundreds or even thousands of atoms, as for biological macromolecules, is still far from becoming a routine computational tool. In fact, this approach requires a number of calculations that can be proportional to N^{3-5}, where N is the total number of electrons in the system. To overcome this problem, it was clear since the beginning that a reduction, by means of ad hoc approximations, of the description of the dynamic behavior of atoms, using a classic physics model would be necessary. In the classical representation, the electrons on the atoms are not explicitly considered but their mean-field effect is taken into account. The first simulation of an atomic fluid using this approximation was performed approximately 63 years ago by Alder and Wainwright (1957). They developed and used the method in order to study simple fluids by means of a model that represented atoms as discs and rigid spheres. These first pioneer studies mark the birth of the classical molecular dynamics (MD) simulation technique. The successive use of more realistic interaction potentials has allowed obtaining simulations comparable to experimental data, showing that MD can be used as a valid tool for surveying the microscopical properties of real systems. The first simulations of this type were carried out by Rahman and Verlet (1964): in these simulations, a Lennard-Jones type potential was used in order to describe the atomic interactions of argon in the liquid state. Another very important hallmark in this field was the simulation of the first protein (the bovine pancreatic trypsin inhibitor) by McCammon and Karplus in 1977. In the following years, the success obtained in reproducing structural properties of proteins and other macromolecules led to a great spread of the MD within the studies of structural biology. The continuous increase of computer power and improvement of programming languages has concurred to a further refinement of the technique. Its application was progressively expanded to more complex biological systems, comprising large protein complexes in a membrane environment. In this way, MD is becoming a powerful and flexible tool with application in disparate fields reaching from structural biology to material science.

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A Practical Introduction to the C Language for Computational Chemistry. Part 3

Sphere. From Space, from Space, Sir: whence else?

Square. Pardon me, my Lord, but is not your Lordship already in Space, your Lordship and his humble servant, even at this moment?

Sphere. Pooh! what do you know of Space? Define Space.

Square. Space, my Lord, is height and breadth indefinitely prolonged.

Sphere. Exactly: you see you do not even know what Space is. You think it is of Two Dimensions only; but I have come to announce to you a Third — height, breadth, and length.

Square. Your Lordship is pleased to be merry. We also speak of length and height, or breadth and thickness, thus denoting Two Dimensions by four names.

Sphere. But I mean not only three names, but Three Dimensions.

Adapted from: 
Flatland: A romance of many dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott


In part 2 of this tutorial, we have learned how to use arrays and how to read atomic coordinates from a file. In the appendix, you can find an example of the solution to the exercises given in the previous tutorial.

In this third part, we are going to learn how to generate three-dimensional coordination of atoms in a cubic crystal lattice and how to calculate non-bonded molecular potential and the force acting among them.

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Molekulare Maschinen: Die Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Bedrohung, Teil I.

Was Freunde mit und für uns tun, ist auch ein Erlebtes; denn es stärkt und fördert unsere Persönlichkeit. Was Feinde gegen uns unternehmen, erleben wir nicht, wir erfahren’s nur, lehnen’s ab und schützen uns dagegen wie gegen Frost, Sturm, Regen und Schloßenwetter oder sonst äußere Übel, die zu erwarten sind.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), Maximen und Reflexionen. Aphorismen und Aufzeichnungen.

Ein Virus ist Leben in der einfachsten Form. Es ist die minimalistische Reduktion eines Organismus auf seine wesentlichen Funktionselemente. Noch pragmatischer ist ein Virus ein Behälter mit genetischem Code mit einem effizienten molekularen Mechanismus, der es ihm ermöglicht, in eine Wirtszelle eines Organismus einzudringen, der sich selbstständig reproduzieren kann. Als molekulare Maschine kann ein Virus der Form und der zerstörerischen Kraft des Todessterns in der Star-Wars-Saga ähneln. Daher ist es eine Art molekulare Maschine, die wir absolut nicht in uns haben wollen!

Wie der große Goethe sagt, ist der Feind Teil unserer Erfahrung und wir müssen ihn jagen und uns tatsächlich vor anderen möglichen Feinden schützen. Dieser epische Naturkrieg veranlasste mich, diesen Blog zu starten, in dem ich mitteilen werde, was ich über diese gefährliche molekulare Maschine lerne.

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Le Macchine Molecolari: La minaccia del Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Parte I

Difficilmente è vinto colui che sa conoscere le forze sue e quelle del nemico.

Nicollò Machiavelli in Dell’arte della guerra (1519-1520)

Un virus è la vita nella forma più semplice. È la riduzione minimalista di un organismo ai suoi elementi essenziali di funzionalità. Più pragmaticamente, un virus è un contenitore di codice genetico dotato di un efficiente meccanismo molecolare che gli consente d’invadere una cellula ospite di un organismo capace di riprodursi autonomamente. Come macchina molecolare, un virus può assomigliare nella forma e potere distruttivo, alla Morte Nera della saga di Star Wars. Pertanto, è un tipo di macchina molecolare che non vogliamo assolutamente avere dentro di noi!

La diffusione del coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) ha prodotto una nuova pandemia, ovvero una infezione causata da un agente patogeno che colpisce l’intera popolazione di una specie vivente, in questo caso quella umana. Questa situazione di emergenza globale è il risultato di una competizione naturale tra specie viventi che ci rammenta di essere ancora un tassello nell’ecosistema di Gaia. Tuttavia, anche se sia sempre arduo da credere visto lo stato in cui abbiamo ridotto il nostro pianeta, siamo la forma di vita più intelligente nell’universo conosciuto. Quindi sarebbe abbastanza imbarazzante essere sconfitti da un nemico invisibile.

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Nanoparticles in Biology and Medicine

I am very pleased to announce that the second edition of the book Nanoparticles in Biology and Medicine edited by Enrico Ferrari, Mikhail Soloviev is now out.

This fully updated volume presents a wide range of methods for synthesis, surface modification, characterization and application of nano-sized materials (nanoparticles) in the life science and medical fields, with a focus on drug delivery and diagnostics. Beginning with a section on the synthesis of nanoparticles and their applications, the book continues with detailed chapters on nanoparticle derivatization, bio-interface, and nanotoxicity, as well as nanoparticle characterization and advanced methods development. Written for the highly successful Methods in Molecular Biology series, chapters include introductions to their respective topics, lists of the necessary materials and reagents, step-by-step, readily reproducible laboratory protocols, and tips on troubleshooting and avoiding known pitfalls. Authoritative and cutting-edge, Nanoparticles in Biology and Medicine: Methods and Protocols, Second Edition serves as an ideal guide for scientists at all levels of expertise to a wide range of biomedical and pharmaceutical applications including functional protein studies, drug delivery, immunochemistry, imaging, and more.

I have contributed with a chapter (14) titled The Molecular Dynamics Simulation of Peptides on Gold Nanosurfaces.

In this chapter a short tutorial on the preparation of molecular dynamics (MD) simulations for a peptide in solution at the interface of an uncoated gold nanosurface is given. Specifically, the step-by-step procedure will give guidance to set up the simulation of a 16 amino acid long antimicrobial peptide on a gold layer using the program Gromacs for Molecular Dynamics simulations.

Molecular Machines: the Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 Menace. Part I

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

SunTzu. The Art of War

A virus is the Bauhaus of the form of life: the minimalist reduction of an organism to its essential element of functionality. More pragmatically, it is a container of genetic code provided with a smart mechanism that allows it to invade cells of another host organism. As a molecular machine, a virus can resemble in shape and destructive power the Death Star spaceship of the Star War saga. Therefore, it is a molecular machine that we do not definitively want to have within us!

The spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has produced a new pandemic, i.e. an infection caused by a pathogen that affects the entire population of a living species, in this case the human one. This global emergency situation is the result of a natural competition between living species that reminds us that we are still a small brick of the Gaia ecosystem. However, although it is always difficult to believe given the state in which we have reduced our planet, we are the most intelligent life form in the known universe. So it would be quite embarrassing to be defeated by an invisible enemy.

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A personal tribute to the founder of MD simulation of biological molecules: Prof Herman J.C. Berendsen (1934-2019)

On the 7 October 2019, Prof Dr Herman Johan Christiaan Berendsen passed away just shortly after his 85 birthday. Prof Berendsen is considered the founder of the molecular dynamics simulation of biological system: the area of theoretical research that also shaped my scientific career. He was working at the University of Groningen in the picturesque Northern part of the Netherlands. It was there that I meet him the first time as it allowed me to conduct research in his lab during the last year of my doctorate researches training at the University of Rome “La Sapienza”. After I completed my doctorate, Herman gave me the opportunity to continue working in his group with a postdoc position within the “Protein Folding” EU Training network. This happens just two years before his retirement and therefore I was also one of his last postdocs. After retirement, Herman dedicated himself to write two books that distillate all his experience in the area of molecular simulation [1] and in the education [2]. He stated in a project on the social scientific network Researchgate that “I am retired and work occasionally on methods for multiscale simulations.”

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