Colloidal Lego for versatile construction of colloidal matter and designer materials

Physical Sciences : Materials and Compounds

Available for licensing


  • Yuebing Zheng, Ph.D. , Mech Engineering
  • Linhan Lin, Ph.D. , Texas Materials Institute
  • Xiaolei Peng , Texas Materials Institute

Background/unmet need

Chemically synthesized colloidal particles of various materials, shapes and sizes exhibit unique electrical, optical and magnetic properties that can be precisely tailored down to the atomic scale. They are building blocks for colloidal matter and designer materials that can meet requirements for a variety of applications. In mimicking the colloidal particles as atoms, researchers have been exploring the assembly of the colloidal atoms into complex structures, known as colloidal matter, to gain insights into general questions of how matter organizes itself, which are fundamental to materials science, chemistry, physics, and even life sciences. The colloidal matter also exhibits unique collective behavior beyond what occurs at the atomic scale, enabling new functions and devices.

Despite tremendous progress in directed and self-assembly, a truly versatile assembly technique without specific functionalization of the colloidal particles is still elusive. To solve these challenges, we have developed a Lego-like construction of colloidal matter under a light-controlled temperature field, which can solve challenges in the existing assembly techniques.

Invention Description

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have exploited the integration of the light-controlled temperature field on a photothermal-responsive substrate and an ionic surfactant to develop a colloidal Lego technique for construction of colloidal matter.

With advantages such as applicability to diverse colloidal sizes (from sub-wavelength scale to micron scale) and materials (polymeric, dielectric and metallic colloids), tunable bonding strength and length, versatile colloidal configurations from one-dimensional (1D) to three-dimensional (3D), and low-power operation (100 to 1000 times lower than optical tweezers), the colloidal Lego technique will release the rigorous design rules required in the existing techniques and enrich the structural complexity in colloidal matter, which will open a new window of opportunities for colloidal matter in applications of optical devices, photovoltaics and biosensors.


  • Easy to operate
  • Cheap to produce
  • Rich structures to build


  • Low cost
  • Simple optics
  • Versatile geometries and configurations with various material properties
  • Precise control of bonding strength and bonding length for desired functions
  • Applicability to general colloidal particles
  • Low-power and safe operation

Market potential/applications

Companies that have business or products for colloids and optics. 

Development Stage

Lab/bench prototype

IP Status

  • 1 U.S. patent application filed