Nanoparticle Assembly: Expanding the Realm of the Possible

JACS Spotlights Feb. 22, 2022

Nanoparticles assemble themselves into a multitude of compositions and structures, and the range of possible applications appears almost limitless. Robert Macfarlane and co-workers give an overview of the history and current state of nanoparticle assembly research, focusing on assembly approaches and emergent properties of the resulting materials and summarizing future directions and challenges (DOI: 10.1021/jacs.1c12335).

The simplest assembly process, uncontrolled aggregation of nanoparticles into disordered clusters or films, is used on an industrial scale to produce coatings. Supramolecular assembly techniques (in various stages of development) direct nanoparticles to form ordered patterns, self-healing nanocomposites, vesicles, micelles, or thin films. Light, magnetic fields, or biomolecular templates can direct nanoparticles to produce even more complex structures. The resulting materials interact with light, electrons, and magnetic fields in ways that are distinct from those interactions by either molecules or macroscale materials, making the nanoparticle assemblies valuable as sensors, as signal-amplifying tags for various molecular spectroscopy techniques, and in photocatalytic applications.

Challenges include scaling up production quantities and fabrication of microscale and macroscale devices and coatings, controlling the intentional introduction of defects that fine-tune a material’s performance, and processing as-synthesized materials into the desired shapes and consistencies, as well as making nanoparticles that form predetermined structures in response to a stimulus.

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