Switchable Static and Dynamic Self-Assembly of Magnetic Droplets on Superhydrophobic Surfaces

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Science  19 Jul 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6143, pp. 253-257
DOI: 10.1126/science.1233775

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Magnetic Self-Assembly

During self-assembly, objects spontaneously assemble into larger ordered patterns as observed, for example, in the phase segregation of block copolymers or the assembly of micrometer-sized objects and components in electronics. In dynamic self-assembly, the ordered patterns require an external energy source, but still form because of intrinsic interactions within the system. Timonen et al. (p. 253; see the Perspective by Hermans et al.) studied the organization of magnetic droplets, in the form of a ferrofluid, placed on a low-friction surface. A time-varying magnetic field transformed the statically arranged droplets into a dynamic pattern.


Self-assembly is a process in which interacting bodies are autonomously driven into ordered structures. Static structures such as crystals often form through simple energy minimization, whereas dynamic ones require continuous energy input to grow and sustain. Dynamic systems are ubiquitous in nature and biology but have proven challenging to understand and engineer. Here, we bridge the gap from static to dynamic self-assembly by introducing a model system based on ferrofluid droplets on superhydrophobic surfaces. The droplets self-assemble under a static external magnetic field into simple patterns that can be switched to complicated dynamic dissipative structures by applying a time-varying magnetic field. The transition between the static and dynamic patterns involves kinetic trapping and shows complexity that can be directly visualized.

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