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PLoS One. 2009;4(2):e4451. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004451. Epub 2009 Feb 12.

Compactness determines the success of cube and octahedron self-assembly.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA.


Nature utilizes self-assembly to fabricate structures on length scales ranging from the atomic to the macro scale. Self-assembly has emerged as a paradigm in engineering that enables the highly parallel fabrication of complex, and often three-dimensional, structures from basic building blocks. Although there have been several demonstrations of this self-assembly fabrication process, rules that govern a priori design, yield and defect tolerance remain unknown. In this paper, we have designed the first model experimental system for systematically analyzing the influence of geometry on the self-assembly of 200 and 500 microm cubes and octahedra from tethered, multi-component, two-dimensional (2D) nets. We examined the self-assembly of all eleven 2D nets that can fold into cubes and octahedra, and we observed striking correlations between the compactness of the nets and the success of the assembly. Two measures of compactness were used for the nets: the number of vertex or topological connections and the radius of gyration. The success of the self-assembly process was determined by measuring the yield and classifying the defects. Our observation of increased self-assembly success with decreased radius of gyration and increased topological connectivity resembles theoretical models that describe the role of compactness in protein folding. Because of the differences in size and scale between our system and the protein folding system, we postulate that this hypothesis may be more universal to self-assembling systems in general. Apart from being intellectually intriguing, the findings could enable the assembly of more complicated polyhedral structures (e.g. dodecahedra) by allowing a priori selection of a net that might self-assemble with high yields.

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