As time passes, mankind’s imagination grows wilder. People dream of things that are promptly declared “impossible”. But we must not forget that once upon a time, people didn’t believe man could fly, or that once a moment passed, we couldn’t save that memory. And today, airplanes and cameras are quite common! In light of the recent rise of the Sci-Fi culture, many people have dreamed of robots that can think for themselves, and in fact, many people are even paranoically afraid of such a reality! Think, for a moment, about the consequences of lifeless objects developing a mind of their own. Rest assured, the future prospects are not so bleak. With proper programming, monitoring and control, this sentient form of lifeless matter can actually be put to good use! Nanotechnology is one of the many frontiers that are slowly but steadily moving towards a vibrant, dynamic and enriched future. One of the building blocks of this new future, is the phenomenon of “self-assembly” of nanoparticles (particles of a size one billionth of a meter).
“Self-assembly” is described as a process wherein these super tiny particles come together freely, or under influence of non-intrusive stimuli, to form recognizable, repeatable, and most often useful structures. The implications of the realization of such systems are quite frankly, endless. The assembly of these systems is most commonly adjusted with the use of heat or electromagnetic radiation, by adjusting the process cycle time, or by the introduction of a substrate surface. Once self-assembly is complete, these new structures can either be further processed, or used as they are.
These structures don’t really have a mind of their own, but form up solely under the force of their nature! Imagine a material designed using nanoparticles whose very nature is to aggregate, i.e. come together as a sheet which has theoretical super-strength, when it is given indirect stimulation. Now, if pipes or even armor was made using this material, fixing them would be a matter of minutes! If this self-assembling sheet is non-toxic and compatible with biological tissue, patching up internal organs would be clean and quick, which could actually save lives! I could go on and on, but these examples should suffice to show you how vast the possibilities are. And notice that I’m only talking about sheets? There are hundreds of possible self-assembly configurations, and thousands of their applications!
Technology in today’s world is focused on becoming lighter and smarter. That is probably the reason for the extensive research that is being conducted on “smart” materials. The blueprint for the “smartness” of a material lies in its inherent properties. Self-assembly plays a major role here, be it in the “smart” materials currently being used in display technology, biological implants, construction material, space technology, communication circuitry, etc. One can think of these nanomaterials as clay, and self-assembly as an all-purpose tool, that can help us make anything we want out of them!
In summary, the world may be our playground, but its technology is advancing at a prodigious rate. If the future lies in going from mega to micro, and micro to nano, we might as well be creative while doing so! And while doing all this and changing the world as we know it, we must not forget that the things we think are impossible, are nothing but dreams of the future!