Scientists, accidently, found the mechanism by which the tiny single molecules grow into centimeter-long microtubes, when they leave the dish for a different experiment in the refrigerator.
This research was published in the journal Small.
In order to find the mechanism through which the small molecules grow into microtubes, researchers used various techniques including microscopy and spectroscopy techniques and work on the process from the nano to micro scale.
“What we showed was that we can actually watch the self-assembly of small molecules across multiple length scales, and for the first time, stitched these length scales to show the complete picture,” Srikanth Singamaneni, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, said in a statement. “This hierarchical self-organization of molecular building blocks is unprecedented since it is initiated from a single molecular crystal and is driven by vesicular dynamics in water.”
This growth of the molecules is one of the processes of self-assembly. Researchers, in this study, used small molecules p-aminothiophenol (p-ATP) or p-aminophenyl disulfide added to water with a small amount of ethanol. The molecules assemble themselves into nanovesicles then into microvesicles and then into centimeter-long microtubules within seconds with the growth rate of about 20 microns per second.
You can see the video of the growth of the molecule here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vo_S_9XfFfE
“While it was exciting to watch the self-assembly of these molecules, we are even more excited about the implications of the self-assembly of such small molecules,” Singamaneni says. “This mechanism can be used to load the vesicles with the desired macromolecules, such as proteins, antibodies or antibiotics, for example, and build microtubes with a biological function.”
Abbas A, Brimer A, Tian L, d’Avignon D, Hameed A, Vittal J, Singamaneni S, (2012). Vesicle-Mediated Growth of Tubular Branches and Centimeter-Long Microtubes from a Single Molecule. Small. doi: 10.1002/smll.201202509