Soft Lego built in the computer

Jan 17, 2013
This image shows a simulation snapshot of a diamond crystal built of soft patchy diblock star polymers. Credit: American Physical Society

Barbara Capone of the Computational Physics Group of the University of Vienna has developed a new method for the construction of building blocks at the nanoscale. The researcher in Soft Matter Physics, who works at the group of Christos Likos, Professor for Multiscale Computational Physics, is specialized on topics of self-assembly of materials at the nanoscale and she has published, together with her colleagues, a paper at the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters.

In developing these novel self-assembling materials, postdoc Barbara Capone has focused on the design of organic and inorganic building blocks, which are robust and can be produced at large scale. Capone has put forward, together with her colleagues at the Universities of Vienna and Mainz, a completely new pathway for the construction of building blocks at the .

"Soft Lego" orders in crystal structures

The team of researchers has shown that so-called stars – that means polymers that consist of two different blocks and they are chemically anchored on a common point – have a robust and flexible architecture and they possess the ability to self-assemble at different levels. At the single-molecule level, they first order as soft patchy colloids which serve then as "soft Lego" for the emergence of larger structures. At the next level of self-assembly, the form complex crystal structures, such as diamond or cubic phases.

This image shows a simulation snapshot of a cubic crystal built of soft patchy diblock star polymers. Credit: American Physical Society

The spatial ordering in the crystals can be steered through the architecture of the "soft Lego" and opens up the possibility for the construction of new materials at the with desired structure. In this way, crystals can be built that have applications in, e.g., photonics, acting as filters for light of certain frequencies or as light guides.

Explore further: 'Comb on a chip' powers new atomic clock design

More information: Telechelic Star Polymers as Self-Assembling Units from the Molecular to the Macroscopic Scale. Barbara Capone, Ivan Coluzza, Federica LoVerso, Christos N. Likos, and Ronald Blaak. Physical Review Letters. Dezember 2012. DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.109.238301

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