Unique Symmetry-Breaking Phenomenon during the Self-assembly of Macroions Elucidated by Simulation

ZN Liu and TB Liu and M Tsige, SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 8, 13076 (2018).

DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-31533-z

Various soluble hydrophilic macroions can self-assemble into hollow, spherical, monolayered supramolecular "blackberry"-type structures, despite their like-charged nature. However, how the 3-D symmetrical macroions prefer to form 2-D monolayers in bulk solution, especially for the highly symmetrical "Keplerate" polyoxometalates and functionalized C-60 macroions has been a mystery. Through molecular dynamics simulations, using a model specifically designed for macroions in solution, the mechanism of this intriguing symmetry-breaking process is found to be related to the apparently asymmetric charge distribution on the surface of macroions in the equatorial belt area (the area which can be effectively involved in the counterion-mediated attraction). As a result, the electric field lines around macroions during the self- assembly process clearly show that the symmetry-breaking happens at the dimer level effectively defining the plane of the self-assembly. These findings are expected to contribute to our fundamental knowledge of complex solution systems that are found in many fields from materials science to biological phenomena.

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