Targeted assembly and synchronization of self-spinning microgears

Antoine Aubret, Mena Youssef, Stefano Sacanna, Jérémie Palacci

Research output: Contribution to journalLetterpeer-review


Self-assembly is the autonomous organization of components into patterns or structures: an essential ingredient of biology and a desired route to complex organization 1 . At equilibrium, the structure is encoded through specific interactions 2–8 , at an unfavourable entropic cost for the system. An alternative approach, widely used by nature, uses energy input to bypass the entropy bottleneck and develop features otherwise impossible at equilibrium 9 . Dissipative building blocks that inject energy locally were made available by recent advances in colloidal science 10,11 but have not been used to control self-assembly. Here we show the targeted formation of self-powered microgears from active particles and their autonomous synchronization into dynamical superstructures. We use a photoactive component that consumes fuel, haematite, to devise phototactic microswimmers that form self-spinning microgears following spatiotemporal light patterns. The gears are coupled via their chemical clouds by diffusiophoresis 12 and constitute the elementary bricks of synchronized superstructures, which autonomously regulate their dynamics. The results are quantitatively rationalized on the basis of a stochastic description of diffusio-phoretic oscillators dynamically coupled by chemical gradients. Our findings harness non-equilibrium phoretic phenomena to program interactions and direct self-assembly with fidelity and specificity. It lays the groundwork for the autonomous construction of dynamical architectures and functional micro-machinery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1114-1118
Number of pages5
JournalNature Physics
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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