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Watching Molecules Grow into Microtubes

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Sometimes the best discoveries come by accident. A team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, headed by Srikanth Singamaneni, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, unexpectedly found the mechanism by which tiny single molecules spontaneously grow into centimeter-long microtubes by leaving a dish for a different experiment in the refrigerator. Once Singamaneni and his research team, including Abdennour Abbas, PhD, a former postdoctoral researcher at Washington University, Andrew Brimer, a senior undergraduate majoring in mechanical engineering, and Limei Tian, a fourth-year graduate student, saw that these molecules had become microtubes, they set out to find out how.  To do so, they spent about six months investigating the process at various length scales (nano to micro) using various microscopy and spectroscopy techniques.  “What we showed was that we can actually watch the self-assembly of small molecules across multiple length scales, and for the first time, stitched these length scales to show the complete picture,” Singamaneni says. “This hierarchical self-organization of molecular building blocks is unprecedented since it is initiated from a single molecular crystal and is driven by vesiclular dynamics in water.” Self-assembly, a process in which a disordered collection of components arrange themselves into an ordered structure, is of growing interest as a new paradigm in creating micro- and nanoscale structures and functional systems and subsystems. This novel approach of making nano- and microstructures and devices is expected to have numerous applications in electronics, optics and biomedical applications.

Video Caption: A team of researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, headed by Srikanth Singamaneni, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, unexpectedly found the mechanism by which tiny single molecules spontaneously grow into centimeter-long microtubes by leaving a dish for a different experiment in the refrigerator.