Self-organization and self-assembly

Self-organization and self-assembly

Interactions between large numbers of components may generate self-organized and self-assembled structures. Unfortunately, these terms are used in different ways in different scientific disciplines, and are even used interchangeably. A simple way of distinguishing them is to define self-assembly as a process that generates a structure that is in static equilibrium and is thermodynamically more stable than its components, and the assembly is driven by this energy difference [41]. Self-organizing systems increase their internal order over time implying a decrease in system entropy, so that self-organizing systems cannot be closed. The second law of thermodynamics requires energy transfers across the boundary and there is a corresponding increase in the entropy of the environment in which the system is embedded [33]. The self-organized structure is maintained in dynamic equilibrium and decays if the energy source is removed. A recent paper discusses the relationship between self-organization and self-assembly and gives examples of how these definitions apply across multiple disciplines [41]. Examples of systems that are difficult to categorize and that cross boundaries are also given. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie self-assembly and self-organization will enhance our ability to design materials and new technology for important fields such as nanotechnology, tissue engineering, and biomaterials. Complex systems concepts and modelling tools provide additional methods for understanding the behaviour of these systems.

Modelling for Regenerative Medicine: Systems Biology Meets Systems Chemistry
David A. Winkler*, Julianne D. Halley,
Frank R. Burden

CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies,
Private Bag 10, Clayton 3168, Australia
Published in: “Systems Chemistry”, Martin G. Hicks & Carsten Kettner (Eds.),

Proceedings of the Beilstein-Institut Workshop, May 26th – 30th, 2008, Bozen, Italy.

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