Technical Feature

Technical Feature

Biomimetic Mineralization/Synthesis of Mesoscale Order in Hybrid Inorganic–Organic Materials via Nanoparticle Self-Assembly

Helmut Cölfen and Shu-Hong Yu


The organization of nanostructures across several length scales by self-assembly is a key challenge in the design of advanced materials. In meeting this challenge, materials scientists can learn much from biomineralization processes in nature. These processes result in hybrid inorganic–organic materials with exquisite and optimized properties, complex forms, and hierarchical order over extended length scales.

Biominerals are usually produced in the presence of an insoluble organic template as well as soluble molecules, which control inorganic crystallization, growth, and selfassembly. These processes can be mimicked successfully, resulting in inorganic–organic hybrid materials with complex form and mesoscale order via a nanoparticle selfassembly process.Various strategies can be applied, including the balancing of aggregation and crystallization, transforming and reorganizing of pre-formed nanoparticle building blocks, and face-selective coding of nanoparticle surfaces by additives for controlled self-assembly. The underlying principles of biomimetic mineralization will be described, along with selected examples showing that while much has already been achieved, the perfection of natural systems is still out of reach.


  • biomimetic mineralization;
  • mesoscale order;
  • nanoparticles;
  • self-assembly

Helmut Cölfen is a private docent at the University of Potsdam, Germany, and is a senior scientist and head of the analytical service in the Colloid Chemistry Department of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces. He studied chemistry at the University of Duisburg and completed his PhD degree in 1993, supervised by Werner Borchard. After postdoctoral work at the Nottingham Centre for Macromolecular Hydrodynamics (NCMH) with Stephen Harding, he joined the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in 1995 and finished his habilitation on “Biomimetic Mineralization” in 2001 with Markus Antonietti. His current research is focused on the synthesis and analysis of double hydrophilic block copolymers, biomimetic mineralization and nonclassical crystallization, and analytical ultracentrifugation. He has received a number of awards, including the Hermann Schnell Award from the German Chemical Society (GDCh).

Cölfen can be reached at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Colloid Chemistry, Research Campus Golm, D-14424 Potsdam, Germany, and by e-mail at

Shu-Hong Yu is a professor and the acting head of the Division of Nanomaterials and Chemistry at Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale and the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Science and Technology of China. He received his BSc degree in 1988 from Hefei University of Technology and his PhD degree in 1998 from the University of Science and Technology of China. He worked as a JSPS research fellow from 1999 to 2001 in Masahiro Yoshimura's Materials and Structures Laboratory at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. He was subsequently an Alexander von Humboldt research fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, Germany, working with Helmut Cölfen and Markus Antonietti.

Yu has authored or co-authored more than 80 refereed journal publications and one patent. His research focuses on bio-inspired self-assembly strategies, biomimetics, and novel mild chemical routes for the rational design of new nanostructured modular materials, as well as their related properties and applications. He also serves on the editorial board for Current Nanoscience.

Yu can be reached at the Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at the Microscale, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei 230026, China, and by e-mail at