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 particles 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.