In what is being described as the first demonstration of building a 3D molecular structure on a surface, researchers at the University of Nottingham have introduced Buckyballs (C60 molecule) to a surface and found that molecules would self-assemble around the spherical shaped molecule into a 3D structure.
The research, which was initially published in the journal Nature Chemistry, took the work that has been done thus far in having molecules attract other molecules into 2D planar formations and moved it a step beyond by using a non-planar molecule like C60 to promote the growth of the host molecule into self-assembled formations that are both above and parallel to the surface, i.e. in three dimensions.
One of the authors of the research, Professor Neil Champness, had some colorful quotes to describe both the nature of self-assembly and how these 3D structures differ from their 2D precursors."It is the molecular equivalent of throwing a pile of bricks up into the air and then as they come down again they spontaneously build a house,’ Champness said in describing the process of self assembly.
"Until now this has only been achievable in 2-D, so to continue the analogy the molecular 'bricks' would only form a path or a patio but our breakthrough now means that we can start to build in the third dimension. It's a significant step forward to nanotechnology," Champness added.
I like to add a caveat to these stories. As innovative as this research is we shouldn’t be expecting molecular electronics in the near future.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.