From New York University Via “COSMOS (AU)” : “Self-assembly breakthrough offers new promise for microscopic materials by mimicking biology”


From New York University


Cosmos Magazine bloc


Evrim Yazgin

The illustration shows how droplets with different DNA strands first combine into chains, which are then programmed to fold into specific geometries, analogous to protein folding. The carpet highlights one folding pathway of a hexamer chain folding into a polytetrahedron. The zoom shows how the formation of DNA double helices drives droplet-droplet binding. Credit: Kaitlynn Snyder.

A new method for self-assembly in particles by physicists at New York University (NYU) offers promise for developing complex and innovative microscopic materials.

A note here that the “particles” exhibiting self-assembly are not subatomic particles – like protons and electrons – but particles like molecules, usually only visible through a microscope.

Such self-assembling of particles is believed to be useful in future drug and vaccine delivery as well as other medical applications.

Self-assembly was initially put forward in the early 2000s as the potential for nanotechnology began to make headlines. By “pre-programing” particles, scientists and engineers would be able to build materials at the microscopic level without human intervention. The particles organise themselves.

Think of it like microscopic Ikea furniture that can assemble itself.

But, don’t get the wrong end of the microscopic stick – this has nothing to do with artificial intelligence or particles with consciousness. The particles are programmed through chemistry.

This self-assembly is reliably done to great effect if all the pieces being assembled are distinct or different. However, systems with fewer different types of particles are much harder to program. The work done at NYU is aimed at producing self-assembly in these systems.

The NYU physicists reported their breakthrough in the journal Nature [below]. Their research centres on emulsion – droplets of oil in water. Droplet chains are made to fold into unique shapes – called “foldamers” – which can be theoretically predicted from the sequence of interactions between the droplets.

Self-assembly already exists in nature. The team borrowed from what we understand of the physical chemistry of folding in proteins and RNA using colloids – a mixture of two or more substances which are not chemically combined, like an emulsion.

By placing an array of DNA sequences on the tiny oil droplets, which served as assembly “instructions”, the team was able to get the droplets to first form flexible chains before sequentially folding or collapsing via the sticky DNA molecules.

The physicists found that a simple alternating chain of up to 13 droplets, with two different types of oil, self-assembled into 11 two-dimensional ‘foldamers’ and an additional one in three dimensions.

Microscopy images show a chain of alternating blue and yellow droplets folding into a crown geometry through blue-blue, blue-yellow, and finally yellow-yellow interactions, mediated by sticky DNA strands. Microscopic droplets are programmed to interact via sticky DNA strands to uniquely fold into well-defined shapes, as shown here. Credit: The Brujic Lab.

“Being able to pre-program colloidal architectures gives us the means to create materials with intricate and innovative properties,” explains senior author Jasna Brujic, a professor in New York University’s Department of Physics. “Our work shows how hundreds of self-assembled geometries can be uniquely created, offering new possibilities for the creation of the next generation of materials.”

They say the counterintuitive and pioneering aspect of their research is in requiring fewer building blocks to produce a wide variety of shapes.

“Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, in which every piece is different, our process uses only two types of particles, which greatly reduces the variety of building blocks needed to encode a particular shape. The innovation lies in using folding, similar to the way that proteins do, but on a length scale 1,000 times bigger – about one-tenth the width of a strand of hair. These particles first bind together to make a chain, which then folds, according to pre-programmed interactions that guide the chain through complex pathways, into a unique geometry,” says Brujic.

“The ability to obtain a lexicon of shapes opens the path to further assembly into larger scale materials, just as proteins hierarchically aggregate to build cellular compartments in biology.”

Science paper:

See the full article here .


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More than 175 years ago, Albert Gallatin, the distinguished statesman who served as secretary of the treasury under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, declared his intention to establish “in this immense and fast-growing city … a system of rational and practical education fitting for all and graciously opened to all.” Founded in 1831, New York University is now one of the largest private universities in the United States. Of the more than 3,000 colleges and universities in America, New York University is one of only 60 member institutions of the distinguished Association of American Universities.

New York University is a private research university in New York City. Chartered in 1831 by the New York State Legislature, NYU was founded by a group of New Yorkers led by then Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin.

In 1832, the initial non-denominational all-male institution began its first classes near City Hall based on a curriculum focused on a secular education. The university, in 1833, then moved and has maintained its main campus in Greenwich Village surrounding Washington Square Park. Since then, the university has added an engineering school in Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center and graduate schools throughout Manhattan. New York University has become the largest private university in the United States by enrollment, with a total of 51,848 enrolled students, including 26,733 undergraduate students and 25,115 graduate students, in 2019. New York University also receives the most applications of any private institution in the United States and admissions is considered highly selective.

New York University is organized into 10 undergraduate schools, including the College of Arts & Science, Gallatin School, Steinhart School, Stern School of Business, Tandon School of Engineering, and the Tisch School of Arts. New York University’s 15 graduate schools includes the Grossman School of Medicine, School of Law, Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, School of Professional Studies, School of Social Work, Rory Meyers School of Nursing, and Silver School of Social Work. The university’s internal academic centers include the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, Center for Data Science, Center for Neural Science, Clive Davis Institute, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, Institute of Fine Arts, and the New York University Langone Health System. New York University is a global university with degree-granting campuses at New York University Abu Dhabi and New York University Shanghai, and academic centers in Accra, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Florence, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C.

Past and present faculty and alumni include 38 Nobel Laureates, 8 Turing Award winners, 5 Fields Medalists, 31 MacArthur Fellows, 26 Pulitzer Prize winners, 3 heads of state, a U.S. Supreme Court justice, 5 U.S. governors, 4 mayors of New York City, 12 U.S. Senators, 58 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, two Federal Reserve Chairmen, 38 Academy Award winners, 30 Emmy Award winners, 25 Tony Award winners, 12 Grammy Award winners, 17 billionaires, and seven Olympic medalists. The university has also produced six Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, 29 Schwarzman Scholars, and one Mitchell Scholar.


New York University is classified among “R1: Doctoral Universities – Very high research activity” and research expenditures totaled $917.7 million in 2017. The university was the founding institution of the American Chemical Society. The New York University Grossman School of Medicine received $305 million in external research funding from the National Institutes of Health in 2014. New York University was granted 90 patents in 2014, the 19th most of any institution in the world. New York University owns the fastest supercomputer in New York City. As of 2016, New York University hardware researchers and their collaborators enjoy the largest outside funding level for hardware security of any institution in the United States, including grants from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the United States Army Research Laboratory, the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Semiconductor Research Corporation, and companies including Twitter, Boeing, Microsoft, and Google.

In 2019, four New York University Arts & Science departments ranked in Top 10 of Shanghai Academic Rankings of World Universities by Academic Subjects (Economics, Politics, Psychology, and Sociology).