Self-assembly of magnetite nanocubes into helical superstructures

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Science  05 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6201, pp. 1149-1153
DOI: 10.1126/science.1254132

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Tuning the twisting in helical nanowires

Assembly of inorganic nanoparticles into complex structures often requires a template. Researchers can now assemble helical nanowires out of cubic magnetite nanocrystals by tuning interactions that bind or separate them. Singh et al. floated the nanocrystals on a liquid and aligned them with a magnetic field. After the liquid evaporated, different twisted nanowires remained. The helices varied according to the concentration of nanocrystals, their shape, and the strength of the magnetic field. Competition between weak forces drives this self-assembly and can lead to arrays with the same twist direction.

Science, this issue p. 1149


Organizing inorganic nanocrystals into complex architectures is challenging and typically relies on preexisting templates, such as properly folded DNA or polypeptide chains. We found that under carefully controlled conditions, cubic nanocrystals of magnetite self-assemble into arrays of helical superstructures in a template-free manner with >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, and entropic forces and can be attributed to spontaneous formation of chiral nanocube clusters. Neighboring helices within their densely packed ensembles tended to adopt the same handedness in order to maximize packing, thus revealing a novel mechanism of symmetry breaking and chirality amplification.

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