What is molecular self-assembly?
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What is molecular self-assembly?


Imagine a puzzle where the pieces fit
themselves together without human help. These special kinds of puzzles are
actually all around us, on a scale we normally can’t see, and they put
themselves together in a process called self-assembly. Self-assembly occurs when
molecules spontaneously organize into complex structures, like smart puzzle
pieces. They are directed to their proper locations by attractions and repulsions
that result from their electrical charges, magnetic properties, and
complementary shapes. This means that the molecules can assemble spontaneously
into ordered rods, sheets, spheres and other useful structures that are much
bigger than the individual building blocks. One of these useful structures
self-assembles every time you wash your hands. Soap is made up of molecules called fatty acids. These molecules have a
hydrophilic end that’s attracted to water and a hydrophobic chain that’s
attracted to oily substances like grease and dirt. When you wash your hands, the
large hydrophobic chains cluster around the particles of grease and dirt, leaving
the hydrophilic end sticking out, surrounded by water. This self-assembled
dirt trap helps the water pilll grease and dirt off your hands and leaves your
skin squeaky clean! Remember that self-assembly organizes
materials at a very small scale. In fact, the molecules involved in self-assembly
are often measured in units of nanometers or a billionth of a meter–
that’s a 1000 times smaller than a human hair!
This makes self-assembly especially useful for nanotechnologies, which are
found in everything from computer chips to electric cars to medical technology.
Speaking of medical technology, one example is self assembling action is a
new method for getting medicine to the right places in sick patients, a field
known as drug delivery. Researchers have found a way to make thin molecular
coatings self-assemble around small doses of anti-cancer drugs, similar to
how soap molecules surround an oily substance. These coatings help the
assembly bind selectively to cancer cells and release most of the drug when
it gets to those cell,s where it can do the most good.
This also protects healthy cells from being attacked by the anti-cancer drug.
Remember the hydrophobic tails and hydrophilic ends of the soap molecule?
Nature uses similar building blocks called phospholipids in the outer
membrane of each one of your cells. These building blocks contain one hydrophilic
end attached to two hydrophobic tails. These pieces self-assemble into a
bilayer, sort of like a nanoscale ice cream sandwich. The center “ice cream” part
of the bilayer maximizes hydrophobic interactions between the long tails and
positions of the hydrophilic end “cookies” in contact with watery environments
inside or outside the cell. The formation of this phospholipid bilayer keeps
important cellular components like the nucleus and cytoplasm where they belong,
so that they can do what they’re supposed to do where it’s supposed to
happen. This is one of the many interacting bits and pieces that come
together to make what’s arguably the most beautiful and intricate example of
self-assembly in nature: You

4 thoughts on “What is molecular self-assembly?

  1. Thanks for presenting a cutting-edge topic in knowledge that is not trendy yet (you could have just copied what is popular like 99% of posters to YouTube do)…

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