Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Nanocubes Get in a Twist

Competing forces coax nanocubes into helical structures

Nanocubes are anything but child’s play. Weizmann Institute scientists have used them to create surprisingly yarn-like strands: They showed that given the right conditions, cube-shaped nanoparticles are able to align into winding helical structures. Their results, which reveal how nanomaterials can self-assemble into unexpectedly beautiful and complex structures, were recently published in Science.

SEM image of a well-defined double helix

Dr. Rafal Klajn and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Gurvinder Singh of the Institute’s Organic Chemistry Department used nanocubes of an iron oxide material called magnetite. As the name implies, this material is naturally magnetic: It is found all over the place, including inside bacteria that use it to sense the Earth’s magnetic field.

Magnetism is just one of the forces acting on the nanoparticles. Together with the research group of Prof. Petr Král of the University of Illinois, Chicago, Klajn and Singh developed theoretical models to understand how the various forces could push and pull the tiny bits of magnetite into different formations.

“Different types of forces compel the nanoparticles to align in different ways,” says Klajn. “These can compete with one another; so the idea is to find the balance of competing forces that can induce the self-assembly of the particles into novel materials.” The models suggested that the shape of the nanoparticles is important – only cubes would provide a proper balance of forces required for pulling together into helical formations.

The researchers found that the two main competing forces are magnetism and the van der Waals force. Magnetism causes the magnetic particles to both attract and repel one another, prompting the cubic particles to align at their corners. Van der Waals forces, on the other hand, pull the sides of the cubes closer together, coaxing them to line up in a row. When these forces act together on the tiny cubes, the result is the step-like alignment that produces helical structures.

In their experiments, the scientists exposed relatively high concentrations of magnetite nanocubes placed in a solution to a magnetic field. The long, rope-like helical chains they obtained after the solution was evaporated were surprisingly uniform. They repeated the experiment with nanoparticles of other shapes but, as predicted, only cubes had just the right physical shape to align in a helix. Klajn and Singh also found that they could get chiral strands – all wound in the same direction – with very high particle concentrations in which a number of strands assembled closely together. Apparently the competing forces can “take into consideration” the most efficient way to pack the strands into the space.

Although the nanocube strands look nice enough to knit, Klajn says it is too soon to begin thinking of commercial applications. The immediate value of the work, he says, is that it has proven a fundamental principle of nanoscale self-assembly. “Although magnetite has been well-studied – also its nanoparticle form – for many decades, no one has observed these structures before,” says Klajn. “Only once we understand how the various physical forces act on nanoparticles can we begin to apply the insights to such goals as the fabrication of previously unknown, self-assembled materials.”

Dr. Rafal Klajn’s research is supported by the Abramson Family Center for Young Scientists; the estate of Olga Klein Astrachan; and the European Research Council.

Yivsam Azgad | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Magnetism Weizmann helical magnetite materials particles structures tiny

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Reliable in-line inspections of high-strength automotive body parts within seconds

Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.

To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...

Im Focus: Kick-off for a new era of precision astronomy

The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.

As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...

Im Focus: Locusts at the wheel: University of Graz investigates collision detector inspired by insect eyes

Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.

Inspired by insects

Im Focus: Physicists shrink particle accelerator

Prototype demonstrates feasibility of building terahertz accelerators

An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...

Im Focus: Simple detection of magnetic skyrmions

New physical effect: researchers discover a change of electrical resistance in magnetic whirls

At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing healthcare and sustainably strengthening healthcare systems

01.10.2015 | Event News

Conference in Brussels: Tracking and Tracing the Smallest Marine Life Forms

30.09.2015 | Event News

World Alzheimer`s Day – Professor Willnow: Clearer Insights into the Development of the Disease

17.09.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Unexpected information about Earth's climate history from Yellow River sediment

09.10.2015 | Earth Sciences

Single atom alloy platinum-copper catalysts cut costs, boost green technology

09.10.2015 | Life Sciences

Indefatigable Hearing

09.10.2015 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>