Designed materials and new tools hold the key for future science and technologies. Building materials from the bottom up is complementary to traditional top-down materials processing, but requires a deep understanding of the individual molecular structures, their assemblies, and dynamic behaviors. This approach, using molecular self-assembly as a fabrication tool, will become an integral part of materials production, especially nanomaterials, in the coming years. Two key elements in molecular self-assembly are chemical complementarity and structural compatibility through weak and noncovalent interactions. We have defined the path to understand these principles. The self-assembly systems represent a significant advance in the molecular engineering of advanced materials and nanomaterials.Nature is a grand master who builds materials from the bottom up, one atom or molecule at a time. These materials include inorganic minerals, crystals, clays, inorganic/organic composite seashells, pearls, bone and teeth, wood, silk, horn, collagen, and extracellular matrices. The sophistication of nature’s bottom-up fabrication and construction has inspired us to learn, in order to go beyond nature’s materials.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(03)00530-3