No Assembly Required: Nanoparticles that Put Themselves Together

Using self-assembly, scientists could create custom materials that are both versatile like biological systems and tough like industrial ones. These materials could be used in better water purifiers, more efficient solar cells, faster catalysts that improve manufacturing, and next-generation electronics. Using self-assembly in manufacturing could also lead to cheaper and more efficient processes.

Unfortunately, spontaneous self-assembly relies heavily on the particles' characteristics. Use different particles, and self-assembly will either form different structures or not occur at all.

Image courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory Researchers at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory have discovered how to combine DNA and nanoparticles so that the nanoparticles self-assemble into a variety of 3D structures.

But researchers are looking into a different approach that will work no matter what type of particle they use. With this method, scientists attach a material that wants to self-assemble to a different nanomaterial that doesn't. The materials that want to self-assemble act like Velcro strips used to hang pictures. Normally, the pictures and wall wouldn't stick together. But by applying a Velcro strip to each one and pushing on them, they lock in place. With this method, scientists could connect any type of nanoparticles and do so in whatever form they wish.

DNA is one of the most promising forms of this nano-Velcro. Scientists at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN), a DOE Office of Science user facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory, are investigating this method.
"Using DNA, we can instruct particles how to connect to each other," said Oleg Gang, a CFN researcher and Columbia University professor. When scientists attach synthetic DNA to nanoparticles, the DNA strands pair up in the same way they do in every living thing, bringing the nanoparticles along. 


Image courtesy of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Scientists from DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory discovered a family of synthetic polymers that self-assemble into nanotubes with consistent diameters.

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