PBS KIDS GO!dragonflytv

Find out when DragonflyTV is on in your town.
Discover DFTV!
This text is replaced by the Flash movie.


I'm Keeli and my friend Connor and I love the great outdoors! We were practicing putting up our tents for a camping trip when I noticed that my tent seemed to set itself up almost instantly while Connor's tent took a long time to set up. I remembered this display I saw with school recently at the Children's Museum of Houston and suggested we go check it out. How can some things put themselves together all by themselves?

What did we do?
We met Keith at the museum who told us we needed to learn more about something called self-assembly. We explored an air hockey table that modeled how self assembly worked and even got to play a self assembly game! Keith wanted us to visit his friend Mike at Rice University who uses self assembly to make some really cool things. Mike self assembles these things called capsules which can be filled with medicine or even be used to help clean up oil spills! Mike had us make our own capsules to see just how it all worked! To do this we had to mix together a few chemicals, some food coloring, and some nanoparticles.

What did we find out?
We saw that the particles in our solution had self-assembled to form millions of little beads with food coloring trapped inside. According to Mike there were 36 million bead capsules in 1 milliliter of our liquid solution. Mike told us that because we are able to make so many capsules in such a small amount of time that means self assembly is a very efficient form of manufacturing. Unfortunately, it can't be used to make really big and complicated things--like bridges or buildings, but Mike gave us a special kit to use at home that let us self assemble our own ice cream toppings. Self-assembly is truly delicious!

What can you do?
  • Snowflakes self assemble into beautiful shapes! Observe the snow in your town on different days. Don't live in a snowy climate? No problem! Scrape some frost from your freezer. Look under a magnifying glass. Are all of the crystals the same?
  • Cut up a few drinking straws into 1 inch pieces. Grab a bowl of water. Put the straws in the water and stir. Repeat this a few times. What do you observe? You can do a similar experiment with different types of cereal in your bowl of milk in the morning!
  • Use self assembly to solve a crystal mystery. Are salt and Epsom salt the exactly the same? Add 1 teaspoon of hot tap water to 2 different cups. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to one and Epsom salt to the other. Stir (not all of the salt will dissolve). Tilt the cup and dip a cotton swab into the liquid and spread it onto a piece of black construction paper. Repeat 2 more times. Wait 1 hour. Are the 2 salts the same? Did they self assemble into the same type of crystal?
  • In nature, molecules self-assemble according to "rules." You can model this process at home with some friends. Download these simple self-assembly games (74k) and put yourself in the middle of the self-assembly process. Have fun and remember to play by the rules!
more resources
Science and Technology

Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
whiz quiz
When you make nanosized particles from this metal, it can be used to fight disease. The question is: What is cancer's new nano-enemy?

dragonflytv PBS Kids Go!