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September 10th, 2004
Self-assembly: An Important Part of Nanotechnology
Self-assembly is a process in which molecules move randomly until they fit together in a preplanned way. Self-assembled structures can include thousands of molecules, so self-assembly provides a way to make structures much larger than the component molecules. Self-assembly can be used to make repeating patterns such as grids and tubes, or closed patterns such as polyhedra.
To make complex shapes, it's necessary to start from complex modules. In practice, this means modular molecules like DNA, RNA, or protein. These molecules are polymers, meaning that they are composed of long chains of similar sub-units. Each sub-unit can be selected from a small set of possibilities, and the chosen sequence determines how the molecule will fold up and how it will join with other molecules. A few possibilities at each position creates an exponential number of possible sequences.
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