Matthew N. Eisler
Self-assembly is the basic principle of the organization of structures on all scales in the universe and a key concept in nanotechnology. Both terms have acquired distinct meanings in discrete contexts over time, drawing from existing and projected science and engineering. Indeed, visionary ideas of self-assembly have often been elided with actual processes of self-assembly. Consequently, the term is ill-defined and often misused. Spontaneous self-assembly is ubiquitous in nature. Very broadly, it encompasses the processes by which nonliving chemical materials organize into more complex structures and, thence, living organisms. Atoms interact to form molecules, which in turn form crystals and supramolecules. In biology, self-assembly unfolds on the intra- and inter-molecular levels, resulting in protein folding, micelle formation, and cell and tissue formation. This has inspired visions of artificially “growing” synthetic materials that are more robust than biological matter, yet possess lifelike or biomimetic properties such as self-repair. Advocates of nanotechnology ...