Tiny transformers: Chemists create microscopic and malleable building blocks

July 18, 2016, New York University
A team of NYU chemists has created malleable and microscopic self-assembling particles that can serve as the next generation of building blocks in the creation of synthetic materials. The research focused on engineering particles a micrometer in width -- about 1/200th the width of a strand of human hair (on which the particles [pink and blue] are placed in the above image). Credit: Sacanna lab.

Taking a page from Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", a team of scientists has created malleable and microscopic self-assembling particles that can serve as the next generation of building blocks in the creation of synthetic materials.

"Our work turns the tiniest of particles from inflexible, Lego-like pieces into ones that can transform themselves into a range of shapes," explains Stefano Sacanna, an assistant professor in NYU's Department of Chemistry and the senior author of the paper, which appears in the journal Nature Communications. "With the ability to change their contours, these particles mimic alterations that occur in nature."

The research focused on engineering particles a micrometer in width—about 1/200th the width of a strand of human hair.

Specifically, it aimed to enhance the adaptability of colloids—small suspended within a fluid medium. Such everyday items such as paint, milk, gelatin, glass, and porcelain are composed of colloidal dispersions, but it's their potential to control the flow of light that has scientists focused on creating exotic colloidal geometries.

By triggering specific morphological changes in the singular colloidal unit, the Sacanna group hopes to advance colloidal crystal engineering.

The scientists discovered that, much like Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians, encased in oil droplets were tethered by many chemical bonds. Breaking those tethers via a photocatalytic reaction—in which the absorption of light spurs a chemical response—caused the metallic particle to free itself, producing an overall shape change. In other words, shining a light on a simple crystal allowed the scientists to create a material that transforms its microstructure.

Explore further: Scientists bring order, and color, to microparticles

More information: Nature Communications, DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS12216

Related Stories

Scientists bring order, and color, to microparticles

August 3, 2015

A team of New York University scientists has developed a technique that prompts microparticles to form ordered structures in a variety of materials. The advance, which appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society ...

Physicists shine a light on particle assembly (w/ video)

January 31, 2013

New York University physicists have developed a method for moving microscopic particles with the flick of a light switch. Their work, reported in the journal Science, relies on a blue light to prompt colloids to move and ...

Researchers create 'handshaking' particles

March 24, 2010

Physicists at New York University have created "handshaking" particles that link together based on their shape rather than randomly. Their work, reported in the latest issue of the journal Nature, marks the first time scientists ...

Recommended for you

Nucleation a boon to sustainable nanomanufacturing

September 19, 2018

Calcium carbonate is found nearly everywhere, in sidewalk cement, wall paint, antacid tablets and deep underground. Engineers at Washington University in St. Louis have used a unique set of state-of-the-art imaging techniques ...

Greater than the sum of its parts

September 18, 2018

When it comes to designing and optimizing mechanical systems, scientists understand the physical laws surrounding them well enough to create computer models that can predict their properties and behavior. However, scientists ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.