The Future Is Here
We may earn a commission from links on this page

Researchers watch nanoparticles self-assemble for the very first time

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

It’s not quite the T-1000 pulling itself together after being blown apart, but it’s pretty much the same idea. For the first time in history, scientists have observed the self-assembly of nanoparticles in real-time.

Each of the particles seen in the video above measures a scant 12 nanometers across. To put that in perspective, you’d have to divide the thin side of a dime by a thousand, and then take one of those slivers and divide it by a thousand again. That’s roughly one nanometer.


That’s mighty, mighty tiny — so tiny in fact that the researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory had to use a transmission electron microscope located at the Center for Nanoscale Materials to capture the quick movement of the nanoparticles.

To get the tiny bits to re-assemble, the researchers put the gold nanoparticles into a small liquid pouch and covered it with a positively charged coating. When it was exposed to an intense beam of electrons, an effect was created where “hydrated” electrons attracted the positively charged nanoparticles — but it was an effect that was gradually reduced over time. Once freed from these forces, the nanoparticles were able to jump around and stick together in long chains.


This isn’t anything new, but it’s the first time the phenomenon was actually observed and chronicled by scientists.

Getting nanoparticles to move around is a big deal. Though still primitive, experiments like these could pave the way towards more meaningful manipulations of particles at the nano-scale. Eventually, researchers will be able to harness these movements to create microscopic machines (similar to how nano-scale biological systems work within our bodies), build new materials, and even harvest energy.

Oh, and maybe even create a T-1000-like mimetic poly-alloy.

Check out the entire study: “In Situ Visualization of Self-Assembly of Charged Gold Nanoparticles.”