Scientists have created new kinds of particles, 1/100th the diameter of a human hair, that spontaneously assemble themselves into structures resembling molecules made from atoms. These new particles come together, or “self-assemble,” to form structures in patterns that were previously impossible to make, and hold promise for manufacturing advanced optical materials and ceramics.

The method, described in the latest issue of the journal Nature, was developed by a team of chemists, chemical engineers, and physicists at New York University (NYU), the Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences, the Harvard Department of Physics, and Dow Chemical Company.

The method is centered on enhancing the architecture of colloids—small particles suspended within a fluid medium. Colloidal dispersions compose such everyday items as paint, milk, gelatin, glass, and porcelain, but their potential to create new materials remains largely untapped.

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