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UCLA bioengineers discover how particles self-assemble in flowing fluids
Date:12/13/2010

From atomic crystals to spiral galaxies, self-assembly is ubiquitous in nature. In biological processes, self-assembly at the molecular level is particularly prevalent.

Phospholipids, for example, will self-assemble into a bilayer to form a cell membrane, and actin, a protein that supports and shapes a cell's structure, continuously self-assembles and disassembles during cell movement.

Bioengineers at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have been exploring a unique phenomenon whereby randomly dispersed microparticles self-assemble into a highly organized structure as they flow through microscale channels.

This self-assembly behavior was unexpected, the researchers said, for such a simple system containing only particles, fluid and a conduit through which these elements flow. The particles formed lattice-like structures due to a unique combination of hydrodynamic interactions.

The research, published online today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by UCLA postdoctoral scholar Wonhee Lee and UCLA assistant professor of bioengineering Dino Di Carlo.

The research team discovered the mechanism that leads to this self-assembly behavior through a series of careful experiments and numerical simulations. They found that continuous disturbance of the fluid induced by each flowing and rotating particle drives neighboring particles away, while migration of particles to localized streams due to the momentum of the fluid acts to stabilize the spacing between particles at a finite distance. In essence, the combination of repulsion and localization leads to an organized structure.

Once they understood the mechanism, the team developed microchannels that allowed for "tuning" of the spatial frequency of particles within an organized particle train. They found that by simply adding short regions of expanded channel width, the particles could be
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Contact: Matthew Chin
mchin@support.ucla.edu
310-206-0680
University of California - Los Angeles
Source:Eurekalert

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