PORTLAND, Ore. Nanoscale particles that are easy to manufacture piecemeal but hard to assemble may benefit from a new "sticky patch" technology that researchers at the University of Michigan say enables nanoscale self-assembly.
"By mimicking biological assembly, we are exploring ways to nanoengineer materials that are self-assembling, self-sensing, self-healing and self-regulating," said Sharon Glotzer, an associate professor of chemical engineering on the Ann Arbor campus.
The researchers' method using sticky patches that enable parts to put themselves together in programmable ways could help fabricate new nanoscale materials and devices.
In computer simulation, Glotzer and research fellow Zhenli Zhang showed how to self-assemble nanoparticles into wires, sheets, shells and other even more-complex structures.
With just the parts meant to marry coated with protein-like patches, the computer simulation predicted not only that the correct parts would self-assemble but also that their bonds would be in the correct orientations to make such self-assembled devices functional.
The researchers called their findings significant, saying they have discovered how to make nanoscale parts both attract and repel, as well as snap together in the correct orientations.
Self-assembly is essential at the nanoscale, where devices are so small the size of the tiniest viruses that humans cannot build the structures. In any case, the parts are smaller than any of our ordinary tools and involve operations that are too numerous to perform manually.
In the simulation, the nanoscale parts had their surfaces encoded so they would automatically self-assemble into chains, rings and twisted staircase assemblies the basic building blocks of complex structures, such as tubes, helices and 3-D networks.
These basic building blocks, the researchers said, could serve as scaffolds for assemblies of electronic and optical components.
For instance, sheets of self-assembled spheres, with tunable lattice structures, could act as novel optical filters, as well as microfluidic channels for transporting liquids.