New nanoparticle self-assembly routes “more like nature”

Here’s the latest on new techniques in nanoparticle self-assembly as discovered by researchers from the US Department of Energy:

“We’ve demonstrated a simple yet versatile approach to precisely controlling the spatial distribution of readily available nanoparticles over multiple length scales, ranging from the nano to the macro,” says Ting Xu, a polymer scientist who led this project and who holds joint appointments with Berkeley Lab’s Materials Sciences Division and the University of California, Berkeley’s Departments of Materials Sciences and Engineering, and Chemistry. “Our technique can be used on a wide variety of nanoparticle and should open new routes to the fabrication of nanoparticle-based devices including highly efficient systems for the generation and storage of solar energy.”

Well, that’s the sales pitch out of the way. The thing that caught my eye about this particular piece, though, was this paragraph:

“Bring together the right basic components — nanoparticles, polymers and small molecules — stimulate the mix with a combination of heat, light or some other factors, and these components will assemble into sophisticated structures or patterns,” says Xu. “It is not dissimilar from how nature does it.

Now, think back to that video of DNA and RNA synthesising proteins like tiny little machinesas we get closer and closer to mastering matter at an atomic level, will the line between “life” and “machines” become increasingly meaningless?