New Materials May Emerge Solely to Support Nanotechnology


Self-assembling materials may require new directions in materials development. One of the most amazing advancements in nanotechnology is the ability to engineer materials to self-assemble into new materials or add new attributes.  The ability of certain molecules to bond in planned ways with others and produce new materials is at the cutting edge of nanotechnology product development, and will probably remain there for some time to come.

One-by-one assembly of nano-scale devices is practically useless for most applications. The assembly of nano-scale devices on a one-by-one basis yields so few of the devices that it has little practical use except in research.  To make practical use of nanotechnology devices it is necessary to make them in enormous numbers and, so far, self-assembly seems the only option.  Inventing new materials with applications in self assembly could be one of the next big directions in science.

A key direction for advancement is in the mastery of self assembly at larger scales. While nanotechnology products are currently limited mostly to coatings and special materials, the promise of micro-scale and larger devices being produced by self assembly is great.  After all, every living thing is an instance of self assembly.  While we are a long way from creating life forms, this hints at amazing advances in functionality for the devices we will create.

New materials that can be used in self-assembly processes could gain major importance. Materials that previously had no useful application may turn out to have potential as catalysts of self assembly, or as supporting materials in self assembly processes.  Devices larger than nano scale might be self-assembled in fluid suspensions, and the fluids involved may be new to us, for example.  Chemistry and physics will be key disciplines in the pursuit of commercial viable self assembly processes, and the results will be exciting.

As always, I welcome your comments.  – Tim

Interesting Information:
Self Assembly and NanotechnologyGeorge M. Whitesides, Department of Chemistry, Harvard University

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