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In the search for efficient and cost-effective energy solutions, a structure that constructs itself provides an interesting solution. By exploiting self-assembly, complex nanostructures can be made without complicated fabrication processes.
These self-assembling structures can be employed to make continuous sheets of materials for solar cells and thermoelectric devices.
The Nanoscale Challenge
Structures on the scale of 1–100 nm have been demonstrated to have interesting properties, different from the bulk-scale properties of the material they are composed of. Gaining access to such a wide array of structure-based properties has had a great effect on the fields of medicine, green energy, and advanced materials in numerous applications.
However, these small structures are extremely hard to develop and control. Traditional manufacturing tools are of no use at the nanoscale, which lies in between the molecular and the microscopic—a nanometer is one-millionth of 1 mm.
Benefits of Self-Assembling Nanostructures
Several nanostructures have been identified to self-assemble in a “bottom-up” manner. This property has the capability to minimize the cost of nanostructure production significantly, thereby eliminating the need for costly equipment and energy-intensive vacuum conditions.
For example, quantum dots (nanoparticles with specific electrical and optical properties dependent on their shape and size) have been identified to self-assemble in certain instances. Rod-shaped silver sulfide and cadmium sulfide quantum dots have been proven to form spontaneously upon using the correct chemical mixture, without any additional human manipulation to regulate their shape and size.
Quantum dots have been recommended as a next-generation material for use in drug delivery systems, solar cells, electronic displays, and even quantum computers—the potential to develop them by just combining chemicals together could place them ahead of other competing nanomaterials in these domains.
However, only some self-assembling structures have such evident practical uses—some have solely aesthetic value. A technique devised by a group of scientists at Harvard enabled them to guide the formation of beautiful self-assembled “nano-flower” structures, by controlling the concentrations of sodium silicate, barium chloride, and carbon dioxide as the nanocrystals developed.
Studies into self-assembling nanostructures are underway, and it looks certain that self-assembly will play a vital role in the nano-manufacturing industry with the accelerated use of nanotechnologies.