Self-assembly of magnetite nanocubes into helical superstructures

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Science  24 Jul 2014:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254132

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Organizing inorganic nanocrystals into complex architectures is challenging and typically relies on pre-existing templates, such as properly folded DNA or polypeptide chains. We report that under carefully controlled conditions, cubic nanocrystals of magnetite self-assemble into arrays of helical superstructures in a template-free manner and a >99% yield. Computer simulations revealed that the formation of helices is determined by the interplay of van der Waals and magnetic dipole-dipole interactions, Zeeman coupling, as well as entropic forces, and is possible due to spontaneous formation of chiral nanocube clusters. We found that neighboring helices within their densely packed ensembles tend to adopt the same handedness in order to maximize packing, thus revealing a novel mechanism of symmetry breaking/chirality amplification.

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