Get the full paper here: Nature, 503, 247 (2013).
The concept of hierarchical bottom-up structuring commonly encountered in natural materials provides inspiration for the design of complex artificial materials with advanced functionalities1, 2. Natural processes have achieved the orchestration of multicomponent systems across many length scales with very high precision3, 4, but man-made self-assemblies still face obstacles in realizing well-defined hierarchical structures5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. In particle-based self-assembly, the challenge is to program symmetries and periodicities of superstructures by providing monodisperse building blocks with suitable shape anisotropy or anisotropic interaction patterns (‘patches’). Irregularities in particle architecture are intolerable because they generate defects that amplify throughout the hierarchical levels. For patchy microscopic hard colloids, this challenge has been approached by using top-down methods (such as metal shading or microcontact printing), enabling molecule-like directionality during aggregation12, 13, 14, 15, 16. However, both top-down procedures and particulate systems based on molecular assembly struggle to fabricate patchy particles controllably in the desired size regime (10–100 nm). Here we introduce the co-assembly of dynamic patchy nanoparticles—that is, soft patchy nanoparticles that are intrinsically self-assembled and monodisperse—as a modular approach for producing well-ordered binary and ternary supracolloidal hierarchical assemblies. We bridge up to three hierarchical levels by guiding triblock terpolymers (length scale ~10 nm) to form soft patchy nanoparticles (20–50 nm) of different symmetries that, in combination, co-assemble into substructured, compartmentalized materials (>10 μm) with predictable and tunable nanoscale periodicities. We establish how molecular control over polymer composition programs the building block symmetries and regulates particle positioning, offering a route to well-ordered mixed mesostructures of high complexity.