skip to main content

Science Nation: New 3-D Structures Assemble With Remarkable Precision

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation. In computer animation, sides are folded to form cubes.

[explosion]

(male narrator) In the world of nanotechnology, being able to build and operate small devices is a big deal. Boxes about as thick as a hair release liquid on command. Cell-sized micro grippers retrieve tiny objects, their structures too tiny to be assembled by any machine.

(man) The remarkable thing

(Describer) David Gracias:

is that these structures fold up on their own without tweezers or human intervention.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, Govind Menon at Brown University and David Gracias at Johns Hopkins University are developing self-assembling 3-D nanostructures. From small things come big ideas.

(Gracias) There is a need in medicine to create particles that are smart, that can target specific tumors or a specific disease site without delivering drug to the rest of the body, which limits side effects. Basically consists of these nice rigid moves.

(narrator) Menon and his team figure out how to best design self-folding nanostructures by flattening them out. They work with many shapes, like the 12-sided polyhedron, which can potentially fold into a box-like container.

(Describer) Menon:

Imagine cutting it up and flattening out the faces. A two-dimensional unfolding of the polyhedron.

(narrator) Not all flat shapes are created equal. Some fold better than others.

(Menon) The best are the most compact.

(narrator) They developed an algorithm at Brown to narrow the field to a few compact shapes that easily fold into 3-D structures. Those designs then went to Johns Hopkins, where they created the physical configuration.

(Gracias) We create structures that have two parts, a face,

(Describer) A pentagon.

and then we deposit a material in between the faces and at the edges.

(narrator) They're heated up, creating surface tension that pulls the edges together and fuses the structures shut. The era of nanotechnology promises to revolutionize our lives. We can make them with many different materials: metals, semiconductors, and even biodegradable polymers for drug delivery applications.

(narrator) Now that's thinking outside the box.

(Describer) A globe turns.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

Transcript Options


Now Playing As: Captioned (English) (change)

Report a Problem

While it is relatively straightforward to build a box on the macroscale, it is much more challenging at smaller micro and nanometer length scales. At those sizes, 3D structures are too small to be assembled by any machine and they must be guided to assemble on their own. With support from the National Science Foundation, Brown University mathematician Govind Menon and Johns Hopkins University chemical and biomolecular engineer David Gracias are developing self-assembling 3-D micro and nanostructures which can be used in a number of applications, including medicine.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 5
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 7
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 8
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12