Self-assembly, a natural tendency of simple building blocks to organize into complex architectures is a unique opportunity for materials science. In-depth understanding of self-assembly paves the way for design of tailored smart materials for emerging energy technologies. However, self-assembled materials pose a formidable challenge: they are intrinsically complex, with an often hierarchical organization occurring on many nested length and time scales. This program combines in-depth theoretical and experimental studies of the dynamics of active (i.e. actively consuming energy from environment) self-assembled materials, such as magnetic colloids, suspensions of swimming bacteria and synthetic swimmers, for the purpose of control, prediction, and design of novel bio-inspired materials for energy applications. Examples are self-assembled sensors that can detect, trap, and dispose of pathogens; materials that can self-regulate porosity, strength, water or air resistance, viscosity, or conductivity. We have chosen these seemingly different model systems for the following reasons: they are relatively simple yet non-trivial, with primary physical/biological mechanisms well characterized, and amendable to in-depth investigation using methods of non-equilibrium statistical physics. In the next three years we plan to explore new approaches to synthesis and discovery of a broad range of self-assembled bio-inspired materials stemming from the advance of our program. They include functional 2D and 3D dynamic colloidal structures built from elementary functionalized sub-units that are transported into place and assembled by self-propelled autonomous agents such as swimming bacteria or synthetic swimmers and controlled by electric or magnetic fields or chemical gradients.
Highlight: Swimming Bacteria Turn Microscopic Gears