Hybrid Material Glows Like Jellyfish

Scientists combine biology, nanotechnology into composites that light up upon chemical stimulation.

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Hybrid composite nanomaterial design inspired by nature. Inspired by the biological resonance energy transfer (BRET) mechanism that jellyfish use to convert blue luminescence to green and generate their distinctive glow (top), scientists have designed enzyme/nanorod hybrid nanomaterials (bottom) that glow red upon chemical stimulation.

The Science

Jellyfish get their beautiful, greenish-blue glow from a chemical reaction. Inspired by this natural process, scientists from Syracuse University designed and built a material that mimics the process. The material combines tiny, synthetic rods and natural enzymes. Combined correctly, these materials yield light. That is, the material glows red when chemically stimulated. It follows a process similar to that in jellyfish.

The Impact

The material produces light without batteries or wall plugs. It shows how to control a bioluminescence process. Detailed analysis of the material offered insight into turning chemical energy into light more efficiently.


Improving the efficiency of nanoscale energy transfer in quantum dot or quantum rod based systems requires the ability to fine tune variables influencing this process, such as the distance between donor and acceptor, stoichiometry, and donor and acceptor spectral overlap. In most energy transfer cases, quantum dots or rods are used as donors because they efficiently harvest light with broad absorption extending to ultraviolet wavelengths. In this study, scientists created a nanohybrid biotic-abiotic system inspired by nature’s bioluminescent energy transfer (BRET) process. In BRET, the donor is a biomolecule that undergoes chemical stimulation, leading to bioluminescence, which is then transferred to an acceptor biomolecule that emits light. Scientists chose as the donor a luciferase enzyme that emits green light following chemical stimulation and the acceptor as a core-shell nanocrystal designed to absorb and emit in the red spectral region. The results allowed the research team to elucidate the design parameters needed to improve BRET efficiency and to understand the underlying BRET mechanism by the use of a biotic-abiotic nanohybrid system.


Mathew M. Maye
Department of Chemistry, Syracuse University

Grace Webster
Center for Functional Nanomaterials, Brookhaven National Laboratory


This research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. This research used resources of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials, which is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science user facility, at Brookhaven National Laboratory.


R. Alam, L.M. Karam, T.L. Doane, K. Coopersmith, D.M. Fontaine, B.R. Branchini, and M.M. Maye, “Probing bioluminescence resonance energy transfer in quantum rod–luciferase nanoconjugatesExternal link.”ACS Nano 10, 1969 (2016). [DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.5b05966]

Related Links

Phys.org article: Syracuse chemists combine biology, nanotechnology to create alternate energy sourceExternal link

Highlight Categories

Program: BES, SUF

Performer/Facility: University, SC User Facilities, BES User Facilities, CFN

Additional: Collaborations, Non-DOE Interagency Collaboration

Last modified: 1/4/2018 4:24:50 PM