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Self-assembly of molecules triggered by electricity
The options for controlling molecular self-assembly processes have been limited. A fresh approach uses electrons to facilitate self-assembly, and thereby provides precise external control over the process.
Molecular recognition is the formation of specific interactions between two or more molecules through non-covalent bonding, and has a crucial role in biological systems. Chemists have long been working to achieve molecular recognition between synthetic molecules under non-biological conditions: when molecules with specific properties are brought together, they self-assemble spontaneously until an equilibrium ratio between the number of free and assembled molecules is reached. However, so far, only a few options have been available for steering the time course of the process. Writing in Nature, Jiao et al.1 present a method that uses electrochemical reduction of the components to trigger molecular assembly. This ground-breaking approach enables assembly to be switched on and off at will, allows the assembly rate to be tuned, and can generate stable solutions containing almost any possible ratio of assemblies and free molecules.