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Soft Matter. 2015 Jul 28;11(28):5597-609. doi: 10.1039/c5sm00764j.

Scaling up self-assembly: bottom-up approaches to macroscopic particle organization.

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Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, 940 Benedum Hall, 3700 O'Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.


This review presents an overview of recent work in the field of non-Brownian particle self-assembly. Compared to nanoparticles that naturally self-assemble due to Brownian motion, larger, non-Brownian particles (d > 6 μm) are less prone to autonomously organize into crystalline arrays. The tendency for particle systems to experience immobilization and kinetic arrest grows with particle radius. In order to overcome this kinetic limitation, some type of external driver must be applied to act as an artificial "thermalizing force" upon non-Brownian particles, inducing particle motion and subsequent crystallization. Many groups have explored the use of various agitation methods to overcome the natural barriers preventing self-assembly to which non-Brownian particles are susceptible. The ability to create materials from a bottom-up approach with these characteristics would allow for precise control over their pore structure (size and distribution) and surface properties (topography, functionalization and area), resulting in improved regulation of key characteristics such as mechanical strength, diffusive properties, and possibly even photonic properties. This review will highlight these approaches, as well as discuss the potential impact of bottom-up macroscale particle assembly. The applications of such technology range from customizable and autonomously self-assembled niche microenvironments for drug delivery and tissue engineering to new acoustic dampening, battery, and filtration materials, among others. Additionally, crystals made from non-Brownian particles resemble naturally derived materials such as opals, zeolites, and biological tissue (i.e. bone, cartilage and lung), due to their high surface area, pore distribution, and tunable (multilevel) hierarchy.

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