Academy of Finland, 2005-2010
Nanotechnology (manipulating matter at the atomic scale) gets its name from the measurement unit of nanometer (a billionth of a meter), the width of about 4 individual atoms. Being able to manipulate single atoms, one can create in principle new materials with very special properties: smaller, stronger, tougher, lighter, or more resilient than anything ever made.
Self-assembly lies at the heart of nanotechnology. Molecular self-assembly is a strategy for nano-fabrication that involves designing a number of entities that, when placed together, will self-aggregate into desired structures. Self-assembly is nothing new: it is used all the time in biology for the development of complex, functional structures. Self-assembly has many advantages: it eliminates the difficulty of direct atomic-level manipulation of structure, it draws from the huge number of examples in biology and biochemistry for inspiration, and it tends to produce relatively defect-free and “self-healing” structures since it requires that the target structures are thermodynamically the most stable ones.
We investigate mathematical models for self-assembly, contributing to laying solid foundations for nano-science, that are still missing to a large extent at this time. Based on such foundations, we seek to clarify several central questions: e.g., what can be effectively self-assembled (and thus nano-fabricated), how complex is it to self-assemble a given shape, or what initial structures can self-assemble into a certain shape.