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Tunable thermal transport and reversible thermal conductivity switching in topologically networked bio-inspired materials

Nature Nanotechnologyvolume 13pages959964 (2018) | Download Citation


The dynamic control of thermal transport properties in solids must contend with the fact that phonons are inherently broadband. Thus, efforts to create reversible thermal conductivity switches have resulted in only modest on/off ratios, since only a relatively narrow portion of the phononic spectrum is impacted. Here, we report on the ability to modulate the thermal conductivity of topologically networked materials by nearly a factor of four following hydration, through manipulation of the displacement amplitude of atomic vibrations. By varying the network topology, or crosslinked structure, of squid ring teeth-based bio-polymers through tandem-repetition of DNA sequences, we show that this thermal switching ratio can be directly programmed. This on/off ratio in thermal conductivity switching is over a factor of three larger than the current state-of-the-art thermal switch, offering the possibility of engineering thermally conductive biological materials with dynamic responsivity to heat.

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  • 31 August 2018

    When this Article was originally published, only the front page of the associated Supplementary Information file was uploaded. This has now been replaced with the full Supplementary Information file.


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J.A.T. and P.E.H. acknowledge support from the Office of Naval Research (grant no. N00014-15-12769). M.C.D., B.D.A., A.P.-F. and H.J. were supported by the Army Research Office (grant no. W911NF-16-1-0019) and the Materials Research Institute of Pennsylvania State University. Access to the HFBS was provided by the Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering, a partnership between the National Science Foundation and NIST under agreement no. DMR-1508249. Certain commercial material suppliers are identified in this paper to foster understanding. Such identification does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the NIST, nor does it imply that the materials or equipment identified are necessarily the best available for the purpose.

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: John A. Tomko, Abdon Pena-Francesch.


  1. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA

    • John A. Tomko
    •  & Patrick E. Hopkins
  2. Center for Research on Advanced Fiber Technologies (CRAFT), Materials Research Institute, Pennsylvania State University, University Park , PA, USA

    • Abdon Pena-Francesch
    • , Huihun Jung
    •  & Melik C. Demirel
  3. Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics, Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, USA

    • Abdon Pena-Francesch
    • , Huihun Jung
    •  & Melik C. Demirel
  4. NIST Center for Neutron Research, Gaithersburg, MD, USA

    • Madhusudan Tyagi
  5. Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA

    • Madhusudan Tyagi
  6. Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

    • Benjamin D. Allen
  7. Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

    • Benjamin D. Allen
    •  & Melik C. Demirel
  8. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA

    • Patrick E. Hopkins
  9. Department of Physics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA, USA

    • Patrick E. Hopkins


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J.A.T. and A.P.-F. contributed equally to this work. P.E.H. and M.C.D. conceived the idea and supervised the research. J.A.T. performed the TDTR and TDBS measurements/analysis. J.A.T performed the thermal analysis. A.P.-F. fabricated the protein films and performed the rheology, structural and mechanical analysis and temperature-modulated differential scanning calorimetry measurements. A.P.-F. performed the neutron scattering measurements in collaboration with M.T. H.J. worked on the cloning, recombinant expression and purification of proteins under the supervision of B.D.A. All authors contributed to writing and revising the manuscript, and agreed on the final content of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The Penn State Research Foundation and the University of Virginia Patent Foundation have applied for a US provisional patent, application no. 62/711,010, filed 27 July 2018, related to the structural protein-based thermal switch produced in this work.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Patrick E. Hopkins.

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  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Methods; Supplementary Figures 1–10

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