Molecular self-assembly is a process when a disordered system of molecules forms an organized arrangement without help from an outside source.  Self-assembly is also used in proteins to assemble themselves into virus capsids and phases associated with diseases; the process is driven by thermodynamic and kinetic factors. Scientists have figured out a way to mimic this process through colloidal fusion of particles known as patchy particles, making 3D printing at a molecular level a possibility.

                Created by a team of scientists at New York University (NYU), patchy particles are 10-100 times smaller than a human cell. They are made up of smaller triangular particles that come together like play dough to form a sphere through a process called colloidal fusion; these spheres can then go on to create even more complex structures.

Source: Springer Nature
Plasticine model illustrating the concept of colloidal fusion. When compressed, the tetrahedral cluster evolves into a patchy sphere.

This could allow us to print on an even smaller scale, bringing us closer to 3D printing nanotechnology. According to Stefano Saccana, assistant professor of chemistry at NYU, “You could print a car that is a fraction of a millimeter and that could someday actually run!”



Jackson, Beau. “Colloidal Self-Assembly Has the Potential to Revolutionize 3D Printing.” 3D Printing Industry, 29 Sept. 2017,

McManus, Jennifer J., et al. “The Physics of Protein Self-Assembly.” [1602.00884] The Physics of Protein Self-Assembly, 2 Feb. 2016,

“Molecular Self-Assembly.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Sept. 2017,

Website of Teun Vissers,

2017, Melissae Fellet18 September. “Patchy Particles with Predictable Patterns.” Chemistry World, 18 Sept. 2017,

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