The development of top-down active control over bottom-up colloidal assembly processes has the potential to produce materials, surfaces, and objects with applications in a wide range of fields spanning from computing to materials science to biomedical engineering. In this review, we summarize recent progress in the field using a taxonomy based on how active control is used to guide assembly. We find there are three distinct scenarios: (1) navigating kinetic pathways to reach a desirable equilibrium state, (2) the creation of a desirable metastable, kinetically trapped, or kinetically arrested state, and (3) the creation of a desirable far-from-equilibrium state through continuous energy input. We review seminal works within this framework, provide a summary of important application areas, and present a brief introduction to the fundamental concepts of control theory that are necessary for the soft materials community to understand this literature. In addition, we outline current and potential future applications of actively-controlled colloidal systems, and we highlight important open questions and future directions.

Original Publication Citation

Soft Matter, 2023, 19, 1675–1694; DOI: 10.1039/d2sm01447e

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



The Royal Society of Chemistry




Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering


Chemical Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor