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Science. 2008 Mar 28;319(5871):1812-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1154586.

Self-assembly of large and small molecules into hierarchically ordered sacs and membranes.

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  • 1Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.


We report here the self-assembly of macroscopic sacs and membranes at the interface between two aqueous solutions, one containing a megadalton polymer and the other, small self-assembling molecules bearing opposite charge. The resulting structures have a highly ordered architecture in which nanofiber bundles align and reorient by nearly 90 degrees as the membrane grows. The formation of a diffusion barrier upon contact between the two liquids prevents their chaotic mixing. We hypothesize that growth of the membrane is then driven by a dynamic synergy between osmotic pressure of ions and static self-assembly. These robust, self-sealing macroscopic structures offer opportunities in many areas, including the formation of privileged environments for cells, immune barriers, new biological assays, and self-assembly of ordered thick membranes for diverse applications.

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