LEGO™ Construction of Nanoparticle Assemblies

Designing new levels of complex architectures using DNA strands and nanoparticles.

LEGO™ Construction of Nanoparticle Assemblies represented in two diagrams, one as a cube with globes on each side, and the second as a square of light with a dot of light on each side and in the center on a dark red background.
Reprinted by permission from Springer Nature: Nature Materials, G. Chen, K.J. Gibson, D. Liu, H.C. Rees, J.H. Lee, W. Xia, R. Lin, H.L. Xin, O. Gang, Y. Weizmann 18, 169 (2019). [DOI: 10.1038/s41563-018-0269-0]
Illustration (left) and electron tomographic reconstruction (right) of programmed assembly of a nanoarchitecture built by attaching spherical particles to the six flat faces of a gold nanocube. The scale bar represents 50 nanometers.

The Science

Scientists developed a new method of selectively attaching DNA strands to specific regions of nanoparticles. These are particles that measure 1 to 100 billionths of a meter. The DNA strands then dictate how the nanoparticles assemble into more complex architectures. The team used this approach to demonstrate 24 different nanoarchitectures.

The Impact

Scientists have demonstrated a new way to modify the surfaces of nanomaterials. This allows them to program and create complex nano-sized assemblies. The method's versatility will help scientists study how particles of different sizes, shapes, and composition interact in these assemblies. This will enable researchers to design and create self-assembled nanoarchitectures with new capabilities. The method produced viewable 3D images of the resulting nanocube.


Starting in the 1990s, scientists developed techniques that use DNA to program how nanomaterials self-assemble into larger structures. The challenge is programming how nanoparticles self-assemble and the direction of their self-assembly interactions. Researchers achieve this control by selectively encoding specific locations on the surface of nanoparticles with DNA. This DNA controls how the nanoparticle components self-assemble into a specific complex structure that scientists have designed for a particular nanoarchitecture.

This new research demonstrates a new, two-step method to use colloidal nanoparticles with DNA strands to control the direction those particles tend to bond. This allows scientists to control how the molecules in nanoparticles interact so that they can in turn produce nanoparticles that self-assemble in specific ways to result in specific nanoparticle architectures. The team used tomographic reconstructions in a transmission electron microscope (TEM) for 3D structural characterizations of nanoassemblies with particles of different sizes, shapes, and compositions. The TEM images can be used to view a 3D rotation of the resulting nanocube. The observed selective and directional binding modes lead to the formation of the resulting nanoparticle architectures. These complex architectures are difficult to accomplish using other approaches. The research was conducted at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials a DOE scientific user facility.


Oleg Gang
Group Leader Soft and Bio Nanomaterials, Center for Functional Nanomaterials, Brookhaven National Lab and Professor of Chemical Engineering and Applied Physics and Materials Science, Columbia University

Yossi Weizmann
Assistant Professor, University of Chicago
Current position: Associate Professor, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel


This work is supported by the University of Chicago and the NSF CAREER Award (DMR-1555361) to Y.W. D.L. acknowledges the Martha Ann and Joseph A. Chenicek Graduate Research Fund and HHMI International Student Research Fellowship. This research used resources of the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is a DOE Office of Science Facilities. This research was supported by the US Department of Energy, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Division of Materials Sciences and Engineering.  


Chen, et. Al, “Regioselective surface encoding of nanoparticles for programmable self-assembly . Nature Materials 18, 169 (2019). [DOI: 10.1038/s41563-018-0269-0]

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Brookhaven National Laboratory Newsroom: LEGO™ Construction of Nanoparticle Assemblies

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