Engineers discover nanoscale balancing act that mirrors forces at work in living systems

August 23, 2011
Engineering researchers have discovered that under the right circumstances, basic atomic forces can be exploited to enable nanoparticles to assemble into superclusters that are uniform in size and share attributes with viruses. Credit: T.D.Nguyen, Glotzer Group, University of Michigan

( -- A delicate balance of atomic forces can be exploited to make nanoparticle superclusters that are uniform in size---an attribute that's important for many nanotech applications but hard to accomplish, University of Michigan researchers say.

The same type of forces are at work bringing the building blocks of viruses together, and the inorganic supercluster structures in this research are in many ways similar to viruses.

U-M chemical engineering professors Nicholas Kotov and Sharon Glotzer led the research. The findings are newly published online in Nature Nanotechnology.

In another instance of forces behaving in unexpected ways at the nanoscale, they discovered that if you start with small building blocks that are varied enough in size, the force and attraction force will balance each other and limit the growth of the clusters. This equilibrium enables the formation of clusters that are uniform in size.

"The breakthrough here is that we've discovered a generic mechanism that causes these to assemble into near perfect structures," Glotzer said. "The physics that we see is not special to this system, and could be exploited with other materials. Now that we know how it works, we can design new building blocks that will assemble the same way."

The inorganic superclusters---technically called "supraparticles"---that the researchers created out of red, powdery are not artificial viruses. But they do share many attributes with the simplest forms of life, including size, shape, core-shell structure and the abilities to both assemble and dissemble, Kotov said.

"Having these functionalities in totally inorganic system is quite remarkable," Kotov said. "There is the potential to combine them with the beneficial properties of such as environmental resilience, light and ."

Zhiyong Tang, a collaborating professor at the National Center of Nanoscience and Technology in China, said, "It is also very impressive that such supraparticles can be further used as the building blocks to fabricate three-dimensional ordered assemblies. This secondary self-assembly behavior provides a feasible way to obtain large-scale nanostructures that are important for practical application."

Kotov is currently working on "breeding" these supraparticles to produce synthetic fuels from carbon dioxide. The work also has applications in drug delivery and solar cell research and it could dramatically reduce the cost of manufacturing large quantities of supraparticles.

"By replicating the self-assembly processes that allow living organisms to grow and heal, we can simplify the production of many useful nanostructured systems from semiconductors and metals so much so that they can be made in any high school laboratory," Kotov said.

Explore further: Light twists rigid structures in unexpected nanotech finding

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5 / 5 (2) Aug 23, 2011
I'm I wrong, or is this the seminal break through we've been waiting for?
5 / 5 (3) Aug 23, 2011
Another concrete example of self-assembly. All the closet intelligent designers will be voting this down in an attempt to bury it on the site. Every time something like this is demonstrated it weakens their central argument a little bit.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2011
Yes, self-assemble, good, a balancing act between forces, but,...but self animate on the nanoscalular level, now THAT would be the"seminal breakthrough!"To animate matter, would be the focal point of more than forces balancing/cancelling each other out, indeed, it would be a force, akin to our understanding of the interplay between matter and energy. One becoming the other, in proper equivalence, matter being made, energy never being destroyed. It would be a force that sees the RESULT of forces balancing, that is; creating these structures that this article is talking about, for example, and then ANIMATING them because they do/have met the minimum collective functional groups TO BE animated...whatever that may ultimately be.
The basic structures and the forces that are balanced speak purely of the laws of physics that exist, EXISTED, and were merely waiting for human minds to discover. This all speaks of ORDER, in a material world that obeys the dominion of ENTROPY.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 24, 2011
I'm I wrong, or is this the seminal break through we've been waiting for?

I for one do not believe you are wrong, you merely lapsed in your use of proper syntax/grammar/word-choice, in your haste to post - no biggy!
This discovery speaks of bigger things to come from the smallest things we humans have yet observed basic to the creation of much larger things.
not rated yet Aug 24, 2011
wow i like this interesting blog so cool thanks for posting and i will share this to my friends..keep it up

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