BUFFALO, N .Y. -- Using clever but elegant design, University at Buffalo chemists have synthesized tiny, molecular cages that can be used to capture and purify nanomaterials.
Sculpted from a special kind of molecule called a "bottle-brush molecule," the traps consist of tiny, organic tubes whose interior walls carry a negative charge. This feature enables the tubes to selectively encapsulate only positively charged particles.
In addition, because UB scientists construct the tubes from scratch, they can create traps of different sizes that snare molecular prey of different sizes. The level of fine tuning possible is remarkable: In the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the researchers report that they were able to craft nanotubes that captured particles 2.8 nanometers in diameter, while leaving particles just 1.5 nanometers larger untouched.
These kinds of cages could be used, in the future, to expedite tedious tasks, such as segregating large quantum dots from small quantum dots, or separating proteins by size and charge.
"The shapes and sizes of molecules and nanomaterials dictate their utility for desired applications. Our molecular cages will allow one to separate particles and molecules with pre-determined dimensions, thus creating uniform building blocks for the fabrication of advanced materials," said Javid Rzayev, the UB assistant professor of chemistry who led the research.
"Just like a contractor wants tile squares or bricks to be the same size so they fit well together, scientists are eager to produce nanometer-size particles with the same dimensions, which can go a long way toward creating uniform and well-behaved materials," Rzayev said.
To create the traps, Rzayev and his team first constructed a special kind of molecule called a bottle-brush molecule. These resemble a round hair brush, with molecular "bristles" protruding all the way around a molecular backbone.
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