Originally looking for a cure for Alzheimer's disease, the researchers developed a way to control peptide atoms and molecules such that the peptides self-assembled in a vacuum in an array of tubelike structures that look much like blades of grass.
As a collective coating, the tubes were found to resist dust and water, making the technology a no-brainer application for desert solar arrays, which can be costly to maintain -- after all, cleaner solar panels are more efficient -- as well as on the sealed windows of glass skyscrapers.
The material was found to also have potential as a super-capacitor, which could give lithium batteries more capacity.
A manufacturer has approached the researchers to commercialize the technology.
How did the researchers go from Alzheimer's disease to solar arrays, by the way? The plaques that form in the brains of Alzheimer's patients have a peptide called beta amyloid. The scientists were working with self-assembling nanotubes in pursuit of a cure with funding from drug manufacturer Merck.
The team's findings were published in Nature Nanotechnology.