Although nanoparticle (NP) assemblies are at the beginning of their development, their unique geometrical shapes and media-responsive optical, electronic and magnetic properties have attracted significant interest. Nanoscale assembly bridges multiple sizes of materials: individual nanoparticles, discrete molecule-like or virus-like nanoscale agglomerates, microscale devices, and macroscale materials. The capacity to self-assemble can greatly facilitate the integration of nanotechnology with other technologies and, in particular, with microscale fabrication. In this Account, we describe developments in the emerging field of dynamic NP assemblies, which are spontaneously formed superstructures containing more than two inorganic nanoscale particles that display ability to change their geometrical, physical, chemical, and other attributes. In many ways, dynamic assemblies can represent a bottleneck in the ‘bottom-up’ fabrication of NP-based devices because they can produce a much greater variety of assemblies, but they also provide a convenient tool for variation of geometries and dimensions of nanoparticle assemblies.
Superstructures of NPs (and those held together by similar intrinsic forces) are classified into two groups: Class 1 where media and external fields can alter shape, conformation, and order of stable superstructures with a nearly constant number same. The future development of successful dynamic assemblies requires understanding the equilibrium in dynamic NP systems. The dynamic nature of Class 1 assemblies is associated with the equilibrium between different conformations of a superstructure and is comparable to the isomerization in classical chemistry. Class 2 assemblies involve the formation and/or breakage of linkages between the NPs, which is analogous to the classical chemical equilibrium for the formation of a molecule from atoms. Finer classification of NP assemblies in accord with established conventions in the field may include different size dimensionalities: discrete assemblies (artificial molecules), one-dimensional (spaced chains) and two-dimensional (sheets) and three-dimensional (superlattices, twisted structures) assemblies. Notably, these dimensional attributes must be regarded as primarily topological in nature because all of these superstructures can acquire complex three-dimensional shapes.
We discuss three primary strategies used to prepare NP superstructures: (1) anisotropy-based assemblies utilizing either intrinsic force field anisotropy around NPs or external anisotropy associated with templates and/or applied fields; (2) assembly methods utilizing uniform NPs with isotropic interactions; and (3) methods based on mutual recognition of biomolecules, such as DNA and antigen-antibody interactions.
We consider optical, electronic, and magnetic properties of dynamic superstructures, focusing primarily on multiparticle effects in NP superstructures as represented by surface plasmon resonance, NP-NP charge transport, and multibody magnetization. Unique properties of NP superstructures are being applied to biosensing, drug delivery, and nanoelectronics. For both Class 1 and Class 2 dynamic assemblies, biosensing is the most dominant and well-developed area of dynamic nanostructures being successfully transitioned into practice. We can foresee the rapid development of dynamic NP assemblies toward applications in harvesting of dissipated energy, photonics, and electronics. The final part of the review is devoted to the fundamental questions facing dynamic assemblies of NPs in the future.