graphic abstract. credit: Nature’s chemistry (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41557-022-01106-9
There’s a new nanomaterial on the block. University of Oregon chemists have found a way to make carbon molecules with a unique structural feature: interlocking rings.
Like other nanomaterials, these bound molecules have interesting properties that can be “tuned” by changing their size and chemical composition. This makes them potentially useful for a range of applications, such as specialized sensors and new types of electronics.
“It’s a new topology for carbon nanomaterials, and we’re finding new properties that we couldn’t see before,” said James May, a graduate student in the lab of chemistry professor Ramesh Jasti and first author on the paper. May and colleagues report their findings in a paper published in Nature’s chemistry.
Although other labs have also made different types of crosslinked molecules, Jasti’s lab method allows carbon nanotube-like structures to be linked together. It would allow chemists to make many different variations on the structure and fully explore the properties of new materials.
“You can create structures that you can’t with other methods,” Justy said.
For example, his team used the method to make three interlocking rings, as well as a rod-like structure with multiple rings that could slide up and down. This advance arose from Jasti’s work on nanohoops, which are rings of carbon atoms that are a tapering variation of long, skinny carbon nanotubes.
“Because we are able to make these circular structures however you want, I started thinking, can you make things that don’t exist in nature?” Justy said. “This is where the idea for interlocking rings came in.”
Finding the chain of chemical reactions that can generate complex ring structures took a creative approach. Their solution hinged on adding a strategically placed metal atom to a single ring. This metal starts the chemical reaction to make the second ring, forcing it to occur inside the first ring. Once this interaction has occurred, the second ring is trapped, closing with the first ring.
“We are able to make chemistry happen within a space where it may never happen,” May said.
Tangled molecules behave differently if their size changes, if the rings are arranged differently, or if different chemical elements are thrown into the mix. By making modifications at the nanoscale, scientists can improve the material to do exactly what they want it to do. Since the class of materials is so new, scientists are still exploring all the possibilities.
But Jasti’s team is particularly interested in their potential as sensors, where a change in the position of the rings in response to a particular chemical can trigger a fluorescent glow.
They can also be used to create flexible electronics or dynamic biomedical materials.
“Typical carbon nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes, graphene or even diamond are stable materials,” he said. “Here, we’ve created new types of carbon nanomaterials that maintain their remarkable electrical and optical properties but now have the ability to do things like rotate, compress or stretch.”
James H. May et al., Active template strategy for the preparation of crosslinked carbon nanocomposites, Nature’s chemistry (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41557-022-01106-9
Provided by the University of Oregon
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