Right now, the race is on to create complex, self-assembling, three dimensional objects. It would be a boon to manufacturers, medical researchers, and even toy makers. Now, a new technique has been developed which not only assembles these objects molecule by molecule, but can do so in many shapes.
The research combines two previously known techniques — galvanic replacement and the Kirkendall effect — into one step, allowing non-organic crystals to be grown at room temperatures. Using this technique, materials scientists have assembled single- and double-walled open nanoboxes, fullerene-like spheres, and long cylindrical rods. In a paper published this week in Science, researchers cite a laundry list of what these hollow particles can be used for, including "catalysis, plasmonics, bioencapsulation, drug delivery, and nanoelectronics — where they are excellent benchworks." The technique is also eminently scalable, and the researchers have already managed to boost the synthesis up to a liter of nanoparticles.
A far cry from the grey goo robots of nanonightmares, these self-assembling particles are more likely to improve drug delivery than convert the surface of the planet into a throbbing blob of muck.