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Self Assembly



In the self assembly experiment, students learn how foam "atoms" can spontaneously form order structures.  To mimic the effects of thermal energy, the atoms float in a pool of water; shaking the pool is equivalent to raising the temperature.  The atoms all contain magnetic elements that can be used to create attractive or repulsive interactions between atoms.  Contrary to our intuition, students find that attractive interactions between molecules do not result in order structures, but rather in agglomeration and formation of complex clusters.  By contrast, repulsive interactions create highly periodic arrays.  The interaction energy between "atoms" can be thought of as an enthalpy that can be used to tune array structures.  This type of self assembly is at the root of both atomic and supermolecular structures.  It enable to complexity of biological systems and is one of the key methods for creating arrays with nanometer scale periodicity.