Self-assembly can be defined as the reversible association of preformed discrete building blocks into more complex and ordered architectures without any outer guidance. The information driving the organization must hence be built in to the system and into the actual building blocks. The process can either occur as a result of free energy minimization, leading to an equilibrium state, or as a result of energy dissipation. By judicious design of the components, the assembly and disassembly of materials can be controlled by physicochemical parameters, such as pH, ionic strength and temperature, or in response to molecular recognition events and enzymatic or cellular activity. This dynamic and often reversible behaviour is a key feature required in the design of nanomaterials and devices for biosensing and controlled drug release and is of large interest for development of novel biomaterials for regenerative medicine.
Peptides can display an enormous chemical flexibility and diversity, and can provide an versatile tool box of protein mimetic sequences, motifs and secondary structures, which is of large interest for molecular self-assembly and for realising bioresponsive materials.