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The CO2-Capturing Mechanism of Quaternary Nitrogen-Containing Polymers Revealed Experimentally

A group of scientists from Washington University at St. Louis, USA have disclosed experimentally how CO2 is captured by polymers with quaternary nitrogen cations. Using solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), the authors established that CO2 molecules were absorbed as bicarbonate anions (HCO3).

The increasing amount of CO2 has posed a number of concerning environmental issues such as climate change, rising sea level and ocean acidification. Capturing CO2 from the atmosphere is an effective way to lower the CO2 concentration. Recently, a family of polymer absorbents containing quaternary nitrogen functional groups, termed humidity-swing polymers, have been identified as promising absorbents to absorb CO2 directly from air. However, the limited understanding of the chemical mechanism related to their CO2-capturing capability hindered the development of these promising absorbents.

In ChemComm, Yang et al. used solid-state 13C NMR to explore how CO2 molecules were captured and released. Figure 1a presents the NMR spectra of a humidity-swing polymer absorbent itself (top), upon contacting with CO2 (middle) and after releasing CO2 (bottom). The most striking feature is the appearance of an additional sharp peak at a chemical shift of 161 ppm in the middle spectrum, which did not show up in the other two spectra. The authors further studied the shape evolution of the additional peak, with respect to temperature, and concluded that the peak was due to HCO3 anions. Additionally, the authors also identified the presence of hydroxide anions in the absorbent after CO2 was released.

Figure 1. (a) The solid-state 13C NMR spectra of the humidity-swing polymeric absorbent (structure shown in the inset of the middle spectrum) itself (top), upon contacting with CO2 (middle) and after releasing CO2 (bottom). (b) The proposed pathways of how CO2 molecules interact with the quaternary-N anions of the absorbent.

The researchers then proposed the CO2 adsorption-desorption mechanism (illustrated in Figure 1b) based on the experimental results. The storage and release of CO2 depend on the humidity level of the surroundings: When the humidity is low, the polymer absorbs CO2 and forms HCO3 anions; the negative charge of HCO3 is counter-balanced by the neighboring quaternary N cations. When the humidity is increased, HCO3 anions combine with water and decompose to CO2 and hydroxide anions. This proposed pathway does not involve CO32- anions, which differs from the previously-reported mechanisms derived from theoretical simulations.

The published results represent the first set of experimental evidence elucidating how CO2 molecules interact with humidity-swing polymeric absorbents. The acquired mechanistic insight could provide valuable guidelines for the design of CO2 absorbents with ultrahigh absorption capacity.

 

To find out more please read:

Humidity-Swing Mechanism for CO2 Capture from Ambient Air
Hao Yang, Manmilan Singh and Jacob Schaefer
Chem. Commun., 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc02109k

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Read our most cited ChemComm Features from 2016 and 2017

We are showcasing our 20 most cited ChemComm Feature articles from 2016 and from 2017. This collection provides an easy way to access some of the most exciting topics of research across the chemical sciences – from materials and supramolecular chemistry through to physical chemistry and catalysis.

ALL articles are FREE to read and download until 11 June!

We hope you enjoy reading this collection! Some of the highlights are given below:

 

C6CC05568K graphical abstract, Atomic and molecular layer deposition: off the beaten track, van Ommen et al.Atomic and molecular layer deposition: off the beaten track

 

Van Bui, F. Grillo and J. R. van Ommen

Chem. Commun., 2017, 53, 45-71

DOI: 10.1039/C6CC05568K
 

 

 


C6CC08967D Graphical Abstract, Biological and related applications of pillar[n]arenes, Wang et al.

Biological and related applications of pillar[n]arenes

 

CuhaWijay Sathiyajith, Rafik Rajjak Shaikh, Qian Han, Yue Zhang, Kamel Meguellati and Ying-Wei Yang

Chem. Commun., 2017, 53, 677-696

DOI: 10.1039/C6CC08967D

 

 


C5CC08213G Graphical Abstract, Boron clusters in luminescent materials, Mukherjee and ThilagarBoron clusters in luminescent materials

 

Sanjoy Mukherjee and Pakkirisamy Thilagar

Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 1070-1093

DOI: 10.1039/C5CC08213G

 

 

 


Fluorescent glycoprobes: a sweet addition for improved sensing

C6CC06875H Graphical Abstract, Fluorescent glycoprobes: a sweet addition for improved sensing, Xie et al.

 

Xiao-Peng He, Yi Zang, Tony D. James, Jia Li, Guo-Rong Chen
and Juan Xie

Chem. Commun., 2017, 53, 82-90

DOI: 10.1039/C6CC06875H

 

 

 


C6CC03638D Graphical Abstract, Halogen bonding anion recognition, Brown and Beer

Halogen bonding anion recognition

 

Asha Brown and Paul D. Beer

Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 8645-8658

DOI: 10.1039/C6CC03638D

 

 

 


C6CC08820A Graphical Abstract, Long range electrostatic forces in ionic liquids, Atkin et al.Long range electrostatic forces in ionic liquids

 

Matthew A. Gebbie, Alexander M. Smith, Howard A. Dobbs, Alpha A. Lee,
Gregory G. Warr, Xavier Banquy, Markus Valtiner, Mark W. Rutland, Jacob N. Israelachvili,
Susan Perkin and Rob Atkin

Chem. Commun., 2017, 53, 1214-1224

DOI: 10.1039/C6CC08820A

 

 


C5CC08216A Graphical Abstract, Pharmaceutical cocrystals: along the path to improved medicines, Zaworotko et al.Pharmaceutical cocrystals: along the path to improved medicines

 

Naga K. Duggirala, Miranda L. Perry, Örn Almarsson and Michael J. Zaworotko

Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 640-655

DOI: 10.1039/C5CC08216A

 

 

 


C6CC00336B Graphical Abstract, Rational control of nano-scale metal-catalysts for biomass conversion, Yan et al.Rational control of nano-scale metal-catalysts for biomass conversion

 

Yunzhu Wang,  Sudipta De  and  Ning Yan

Chem. Commun., 2016, 52, 6210-6224

DOI: 10.1039/C6CC00336B

 

 

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Ruthenium Currency for a Hydrogen Fuel Economy

A group of researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Southwest University want us to kick the fossil fuels habit. Their research comes to us from China, a country using roughly one quarter of the world’s yearly energy consumption, and where the finite nature of fossil fuels is a very real threat to energy supply security. Leading in energy use, China also leads the world in electricity production from renewable sources and investment in clean energy projects.

Hydrogen is considered a viable alternative to fossil fuels as it is energy rich, more so than petrol or ethanol at 39 kWh/kg (petrol: 13 kWh/kg, ethanol: 8.2 kWh/kg), and upon combustion emits only water vapour. However, hydrogen is often obtained from fossil fuels, and it will only be a practical option for the world’s future energy needs if it can be produced from a renewable source.

Preparation of the Ru2P/reduced graphene oxide electrocatalyst for the hydrogen evolution reaction

Preparation of the Ru2P/reduced graphene oxide catalyst

To this end, water splitting offers a solution. In a water electrolysis cell, hydrogen is produced at the cathode via the hydrogen evolution reaction (HER, 2H+ + 2e –> H2), and molecular oxygen is produced at the anode (2H2O –> O2 + 4H+ + 4e). It is ideal in theory, but high energy efficiencies are required to make water splitting viable, and this relies on the development of catalytic electrodes to minimize overpotentials required to drive the reaction. Currently, state of the art HER electrocatalysts use platinum, which is expensive and rare. Furthermore, platinum catalysts are most efficient in an acidic electrolyte and proceed 2-3 times slower in alkaline solutions. On the other hand, the best oxygen evolution catalysts perform better in alkaline environments. Using an alkaline electrolyte has overall advantages as it is less corrosive, thus increasing the stability and lifetime of the electrolytic cell.

The authors have developed a HER catalyst, using ruthenium, with overpotentials and current densities superior to Pt/C in both alkaline and acidic conditions.

DFT calculation to probe the hydrogen adsorption energies on the active catalytic surface of the Ru2P on reduced graphene oxide catalyst.

DFT calculation to probe the hydrogen adsorption energies on the active catalytic surface of the Ru2P catalyst. a) and b) front and side views of the calculated Ru2P/reduced graphene oxide surface. c) free energy diagram for the HER with different catalysts.

The electrocatalyst is comprised of small, uniform Ru2P nanoparticles (~2-4 nm) evenly distributed on reduced graphene oxide sheets. The activity of the prepared catalyst (1.0 mg cm-2) for the HER was measured in an acidic medium (0.5 M H2SO4) and the overpotential to achieve a current density of -10 mA cm-2 was -22 mV, superior to Pt/C (-27 mV). In an alkaline environment (1.0 M KOH) catalyst performance was enhanced, with an overpotential of -13 mV (29 mV lower than Pt/C). High Faradaic efficiencies of more than 98% were measured in both acidic and alkaline solutions. Additionally, analysis was undertaken to further understand how the structure and composition of the catalyst influences its activity. Double layer capacitance measurements gave clues about the catalyst surface, while theoretical DFT calculations were used to study H-adsorption energies.

There is no way to avoid the reality that ruthenium is also a rare and costly metal, and for this reason may not hold the key to solving our energy woes. However, of real value are the insights gained from probing the structure function relationship of this highly active catalyst, which may guide the synthesis of rationally-designed catalysts using inexpensive and abundant materials.

To find out more please read:

Ultrasmall Ru2P nanoparticles on graphene: a highly efficient hydrogen evolution reaction electrocatalyst in both acidic and alkaline media

Tingting Liu, Shuo Wang, Qiuju Zhang, Liang Chen, Weihua Hu, Chang Ming Li.
Chem. Commun., 2018, 54, 3343-3346
DOI: 10.1039/c8cc01166d

About the author:

Zoë Hearne is a PhD candidate in chemistry at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Chao-Jun Li. She hails from Canberra, Australia, where she completed her undergraduate degree. Her current research focuses on transition metal catalysis to effect novel transformations, and out of the lab she is an enthusiastic chemistry tutor and science communicator.

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In-Situ Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Revealed the Charge Storage Behavior of Activated Carbon

Recently in Chem. Commun., Wang et al. from University of Manchester and Liverpool John Moores University, U.K. demonstrated that in-situ electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy was a powerful tool to study the charge storage mechanism of activated carbon.

Activated carbon is a type of microporous carbon used for electrodes of supercapacitors (a family of charge-storage devices similar to batteries). Conventional electrochemical testing techniques (e.g. cyclic voltammetry) are able to evaluate the overall performance of electrode materials but are unable to reveal the charge storage mechanism at the atomic level. Understanding the charge storage mechanism is crucial to guide the design and synthesis of electrode materials with improved performance. During the past decade, the development of numerous in-situ probing techniques has allowed materials researchers to explore the microscopic charge-discharge behaviour of supercapacitor electrodes.

In the published paper, in-situ EPR spectroscopy was used to study the electrochemical properties of activated carbon under different external potentials. EPR is very sensitive to electron spins originating from unpaired electrons that are generated upon charging or discharging electrode materials. This characteristic makes EPR a suitable technique for in-situ studies. To carry out the experiments, the authors designed and constructed a capillary three-electrode testing cell (Figure 1a). This cell was placed in an EPR spectrometer and its activated carbon electrode was connected to an external power source (to apply external potentials to the activated carbon electrode). The authors collected the spectra of the activated carbon electrode at selected applied potentials, an example of which is shown in Figure 1b.

Analysis of the obtained spectra offered important information about how the surface of activated carbon changed at different potentials. Specifically, the authors deconvoluted the signal into two components: the narrow signal and the broad signal corresponding to the blue and red curves in Figure 1b, respectively. The peak intensity of the narrow signal increased drastically when charging the electrode, but remained almost unchanged when altering the testing temperature. This observation suggests that the origin of the narrow peaks was the surface-localized electrons. These localized electrons were likely from the oxidized products (i.e. radicals) of carboxylate and alkoxide groups on the surface of the activated carbon, evolved during the charging process. The broad signal was ascribed to electrons located on aromatic units (e.g. graphene domains) and its intensity was found to be proportional to the number of ions electrically adsorbed on the activated carbon surface.

Figure 1. (a) The structure of the self-built capillary three-electrode cell: CE – counter electrode (Pt wire); RE – reference electrode (Ag/AgCl); WE – working electrode (activated carbon). (b) A typical EPR signal (black) that can be deconvoluted into narrow peaks (blue) and broad peaks (red).

This work highlights EPR spectroscopy as a novel tool for in-situ investigation of the charge-storage mechanism of carbon-based supercapacitor electrodes, and could be potentially extended to study other types of materials. The availability of diverse in-situ techniques is expected to provide more in-depth fundamental understanding that will guide researchers to rationally develop electrodes with optimized performance.

 

To find out more please read:

In-Situ Electrochemical Electron Paramagnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as A Tool to Probe Electric Double Layer Capacitance

Bin Wang, Alistair J. Fielding and Robert A. W. Dryfe

Chem. Commun. 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc00450a

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is an online blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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Synthesis of Maleimide Dyes with Colourful Fluorescent Emissions

A group of researchers based at universities spanning the UK, China and Spain have synthesised a diverse library of fluorescent maleimide dyes with the aim of developing a structure-function relationship, relating substituent effects to the optical properties of such molecules. This work is not only important to build upon fundamental understanding of the fluorescence mechanism, but to develop knowledge that may be used to guide the synthesis of organic fluorophores which demand particular optical properties.

Organic fluorescent molecules are used as tools in many areas such as forensics, genetic analysis, DNA sequencing and biotechnology. Maleimides are commonly used as fluorescent labels for proteins, as they can couple with the thiol groups of cysteine residues. They are suited to this purpose as they are stable, easily functionalised, give strong emissions and do not perturb the protein structure to a large extent.

Molecules fluoresce upon absorption of UV or visible light, elevating an electron from a ground state orbital to a higher-energy orbital and resulting in a singlet excited state. Relaxation to the ground state occurs rapidly (~ 10 ns) with concomitant emission of a photon – this is what we observe as ‘fluorescence’. The emitted photon almost always has a longer wavelength than the absorbed light, a phenomenon known as the ‘Stokes shift’.

 

Structures of selected aminohalomaleimides and alkoxyhalomaleimides

Structures of selected amino-halo-maleimides and alkoxy-halo-maleimides synthesised for the study

With three dihalomaleimide precursers in hand (Cl, Br and I) the researchers assembled a library of amino-halo-maleimides, amino-alkoxy-maleimides, and amino-thio-maleimides. They varied the R groups bound to the N, O and S heteroatoms to include aliphatic, phenyl and benzyl examples.

The optical properties of the amino-halo-maleimides in diethyl ether were examined and the emission wavelengths were measured to be 461-487 nm, giving green-blue fluorescence. The fluorescence quantum yields, a measure of the quantity of emitted photons compared to absorbed photons and an indication of emission brightness, decreased with the electronegativity of the halide (Cl: 37%, Br: 30%, I: 8%). Like many fluorescent molecules in solution the compounds exhibited solvafluorochromism: when the polarity of the solvent alters the optical properties. In protic solvents (methanol and water) the fluorescence quantum yields decreased to below 1% and the emission wavelengths increased by 73-109 nm. On the other hand, in non-polar solvents (cyclohexane) the fluorescence quantum yield increased, up to 56% for the chloro analogue.

a) The UV and emission spectra of fluorescent maleimides bearing amino (2a-c) and alkoxy (3a, 3b) substituents. b) The quantum yields of selected amino and alkoxymaleimides. c) The solvafluorochromism effect for three aminomaleimides (2a-c) in increasingly non-polar solvents.

a) The UV and emission spectra of fluorescent maleimides bearing amino (2a-c) and alkoxy (3a, 3b) substituents. b) The quantum yields of selected amino and alkoxymaleimides. c) The solvafluorochromism effect for three maleimides (2a-c) in various solvents.

Compared to their amino-substituted counterparts, alkoxy-halo-maleimides have lower quantum yields (reduction of 20-25%), indicating the increased electron-donating capacity of the amine substituent is important for fluorescence intensity. Furthermore, the slight decrease in the emission wavelengths of alkoxy-halo-maleimides (458-465 nm) gives them blue fluorescent emissions. Amino-thio-maleimides, with greater electron-donating capacity than both the amino and alkoxy analogues, have increased emission wavelengths (526-564 nm), thus yellow fluorescent emissions.

This study is a worthwhile read for anyone who uses fluorescent molecules in their work, those wishing to understand a little more about the practical principles of fluorescence and all those curious minds who like to form their own hypotheses.

To find out more please read:

Rational design of substituted maleimide dyes with tunable fluorescence and solvafluorochromism

Yujie Xie, Jonathan T. Husband, Miquel Torrent-Sucarrat, Huan Yang, Weisheng Liu, Rachel K. O’Reilly.
Chem. Commun., 2018, 54, 3339 – 3342
DOI: 10.1039/C8CC00772A

About the author:

Zoë Hearne is a PhD candidate in chemistry at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Chao-Jun Li. She hails from Canberra, Australia, where she completed her undergraduate degree. Her current research focuses on transition metal catalysis to effect novel transformations, and out of the lab she is an enthusiastic chemistry tutor and science communicator.

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Synthesis of Oxazolines with a Triple Activation Twist

A group of researchers based in Valencia, Spain, have developed an enantio- and diastereoselective method to synthesize oxazolines, using a combination of silver and an organocatalyst that is only one degree of separation away from a classic British cocktail (to get that one, you might have to keep reading). This method complements the current literature by employing unactivated ketone substrates to prepare products with two adjacent chiral centres, one of which is quaternary.

Oxazolines are a versatile functional group, found in synthetic precursors and functional molecules and materials. They are a common structural feature in many natural products and in medicinal chemistry they are incorporated into synthetic drug candidates as bioisosteres of other functional groups, such as thiazoles and imidazoles. Oxazolines can also be used to prepare poly(2-alkyl/aryl-oxazoline) polymers, which have utility in biomedical fields to prepare hydrogels, nanoparticles for drug delivery and imaging, and polymer-protein conjugates. In an organic synthesis laboratory oxazolines are encountered as ligands in asymmetric catalysis, such as the bis(oxazoline) ‘BOX’ family of compounds.

Synthesis of oxazolines from ketones and isocyanaoacetate esters via a formal [3+2] cycloaddition reaction catalysed by a multicatalytic system of silver and a dihydroquinine squaramide organocatalyst

Synthesis of oxazolines from ketones and isocyanaoacetate esters via a formal [3+2] cycloaddition reaction.

The researchers optimised the reaction with acetophenone and tert-butyl isocyanoacetate, and found that Ag2O (2.5 mol%) and a dihydroquinine squaramide organocatalyst (5 mol%) promoted the reaction to obtain a quantitative yield of the cis-oxazoline (80:20 cis/trans) in 24 hours with excellent enantiomeric excess (99/93% e.e.). The researchers tested the reaction scope and found that acetophenone derivatives substituted with electron-withdrawing and donating groups (NO2, Cl, Br, Me) gave the cis-oxazoline products in reliable yields (60 – 99%), fair to good diastereoselectivity (56:44 – 95:5 cis/trans) and excellent enantioselectivities (91 – 99% e.e.). Other examples tested included cyclohexanone, 2-acetylthiophene, deoxybenzoin and acetone as well as aliphatic ketones with a combination of methyl, isopropyl and cyclopropyl groups (63-99% yield, 45:55 – 98:2 cis/trans, 56 – 98% e.e.).

Diagram showing the triple activation of the substrates achieved using a dihydroquinone squaramide organocatalyst combined with a silver lewis acid.

Diagram showing the triple activation of substrates using a dihydroquinine squaramide organocatalyst combined with a silver lewis acid.

The dihydroquinine squaramide organocatalyst used is a composite structure comprising a rigid cyclobutendione ‘squaramide’ and a reduced quinine analogue. The former makes strong hydrogen bonds with carbonyl derivatives while the latter confers chirality on the catalyst and has a Brønsted basic quinuclidine moiety. Quinine is an alkaloid isolated from the cinchona plant, and is the same stuff in anti-malarial tonic that is better washed down with a measure of gin. The reaction proceeds via silver-coordination to the terminal carbon of the isocyanate, accelerating deprotonation of the alpha protons by the quinuclidine base and forming a nucleophilic enoate. The electrophilicity of the ketone is enhanced by the formation of two hydrogen bonds with the N-H bonds of the squaramide, shaping a doubly activated system which rapidly undergoes a formal [3+2] cycloaddition to give the products.

At first glance this seems to be a simple and straightforward transformation, but in reality the authors have succeeded in optimising a reaction for unactivated substrates which has stereocontrol over two chiral centres, one of which is quaternary. Furthermore, the reaction uses a combination of two catalysts reacting via three modes of activation.

To find out more please read:

Enantioselective synthesis of chiral oxazolines from unactivated ketones and isocyanoacetate esters by synergistic silver/organocatalysis

Pablo Martínez-Pardo, Gonzalo Blay, M. Carmen Muñoz, José R. Pedro, Amparo Sanz-Marco and Carlos Vila.
Chem. Commun., 2018, 54, 2862 – 2865
DOI: 10.1039/c8cc00856f

About the author:

Zoë Hearne is a PhD candidate in chemistry at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Chao-Jun Li. She hails from Canberra, Australia, where she completed her undergraduate degree. Her current research focuses on transition metal catalysis to effect novel transformations, and out of the lab she is an enthusiastic chemistry tutor and science communicator.

 

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An Industrial Revolution on the Nanoscale

“What are the possibilities of small but movable machines? They may or may not be useful, but they surely would be fun to make”. In December 1959 Richard Feynman addressed the annual meeting of the American Physical Society at Caltech with a talk entitled ‘There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom’, imploring the scientific community to start thinking small, like ‘entire 24 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the head of a pin’ kind of small. Many quote this lecture as when the notion of nanomachines first entered the scientific sphere – with talk of miniature cars, injectable molecular ‘surgeons’ and machines that place atoms side by side to synthesize any molecule imaginable. The lecture reads like the description of the futuristic setting in ‘Back to the Future’, an exploration of possibilities at a time when we fundamentally lacked the tools to make them a reality.

As in ‘Back to the Future’, which predated yet predicted the emergence of mobile-banking technology, video calling and personal drones, Richard Feynman’s plea for scientists to prepare molecular-scale machines has also become a reality, and for their successes in this field Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir Fraser Stoddart and Ben Feringa were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2016.

A group of researchers based in London and Singapore have written a feature article introducing both the foundational work in this field and state-of-the-art examples. Nanomachines are single molecules or molecular assemblies on the nanoscale (this review defines a 1 – 100 nm scope) that have the ability to perform ‘useful work’ upon application of an external energy source. To extract work (often in the form of controlled mechanical movement) molecular machines are designed to operate at a thermodynamically far-from-equilibrium state, maintained by an energy input, with movement occurring as the system relaxes towards equilibrium. At the synthetic level, molecules are designed with components which have restricted translational and rotational movements with respect to each other, and the ability to control these movements is key to obtaining the desired function.

A catalytically active rotaxane synthesised by Nolte and co-workers acts as a tiny epoxidising machine , moving along a polybutadiene polymer

The catalytically active rotaxane synthesised by Nolte and co-workers acts as a tiny epoxidising machine, moving along a polybutadiene polymer

One of the first advances towards the synthesis of nanomachines was by the research group of Jean-Pierre Sauvage, who achieved the templated synthesis of catenanes; structures with two circular molecules that are interlocked like two links in a chain. It was subsequently shown that a catenane motor could be prepared, with one ring rotating with respect to the other in a controlled manner. Fraser Stoddart further contributed to the field with ‘rotaxanes’, composite molecules comprising a ring threaded onto an axle. Nanomachines based on rotaxanes have been developed and include switches, shuttles and ‘molecular elevators’. A state-of-the-art example of a catalytically active rotaxane synthesised by Nolte and co-workers in 2003 demonstrates the potential of nanomachines to revolutionise organic synthesis. The rotaxane is constructed with a magnesium-bound porphyrin, which threads onto a polybutadiene polymer (300 kDa, 98% cis) and catalyses the epoxidation of the double bonds (turnover number: 140, cis/trans ratio of the polyepoxide: 1:4).

Ben Feringa's electric nano-car, a single molecule with four fluorene 'wheels' capable of driving across a copper surface

Ben Feringa’s electric nano-car, a single molecule with four fluorene ‘wheels’ capable of driving across a copper surface

In 2011 Ben Feringa and co-workers synthesized the worlds tiniest electric car using the same design principles they had used to create a spinning motor in 1999. The car is a single molecule with the ability to propel itself across a crystalline copper surface upon activation by a voltage pulse, with 10 pulses moving the car 6 nm across the surface. The car itself is comprised of a central diyne strut bonded at each end to carbazole ‘axles’. Each axle is bound through alkenes to two fluorene ‘wheels’. The key design elements are the alkenes and two chiral methyl substituents on each axle which forces each wheel to twist out of the plane. For one wheel rotation: an electronic excitation induces transcis isomerisation of the alkene causing a quarter turn of the wheel such that it sits adjacent to the methyl group. Next, a vibrational excitation induces helical inversion, allowing the wheel to push past the methyl group another quarter turn. Another isomerisation and helical inversion completes a full rotation. Research achievements like these demonstrate mechanical work on the nanoscale, with the vision of achieving movement on the macroscale via synchronised motion.

These examples represent a small subset of those discussed in the feature article review, which not only spans the current scope of molecular-scale machines, but reviews the design principles guiding their development and the possibilities nanomachines represent in the future of scientific research.

To find out more please read: 

Artificial molecular and nanostructures for advanced nanomachinery

Elizabeth Ellis, Suresh Moorthy, Weng-I Katherine Chio and Tung-Chun Lee.
Chem. Commun., 2018, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/c7cc09133h

About the author:

Zoë Hearne is a PhD candidate in chemistry at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Chao-Jun Li. She hails from Canberra, Australia, where she completed her undergraduate degree. Her current research focuses on transition metal catalysis to effect novel transformations, and out of the lab she is an enthusiastic chemistry tutor and science communicator.

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Buckyball’s Hydrogen Spillover Effect at Ambient Temperature Observed Experimentally for the First Time

A group of scientists from Tohoku University, Japan experimentally demonstrated the hydrogen spillover effect of buckyball (a.k.a. fullerene or C60). They achieved this breakthrough using mass spectroscopy, and their findings were published recently in Chem. Commun.

Certain transition metal nanoparticles (e.g. Ru, Pt and Ni) can capture hydrogen molecules. The capture process generally involves three sequential steps. Firstly, hydrogen molecules split into hydrogen atoms on the metal surface. Secondly, the yielded hydrogen atoms migrate on the surface towards substrates under the metal nanoparticles and, finally, these atoms fix onto the substrates. The second step is termed the “spillover effect” (Figure 1a). Previous studies predicted that curved graphene sheets could enhance the hydrogen spillover effect at ambient temperatures, but solid experimental evidence has remained inadequate.

To gather evidence for this prediction, Nishihara et al. studied the material buckyball, a spherical carbon nanosphere that represents an extremely curved graphene sheet. The researchers selected ketjenblack (KB), a type of porous carbon sheet, as the substrate, and deposited Pt nanoparticles (1-3 nm in diameter) and buckyball molecules onto it (Figure 1b). They found that the Pt and buckyball-decorated KB stored a higher amount of hydrogen compared to the Pt-loaded KB. This observation indirectly confirmed the previous prediction, as hydrogen storage capacity may be improved by enhancing the spillover effect.

Figure 1. (a) A schematic illustration showing how a hydrogen molecule is split on Pt surface [process (1)] followed by the spillover effect [processes (2) and (2′)]. (b) A schematic illustration of the structure of Pt and buckyball-decorated KB. The inset panel displays two forms of hydrogen bound to the composite: the physically adsorbed di-hydrogen molecules, and the spillover hydrogen atoms anchored on the KB substrate and buckyballs.

 

The authors then sought time-of-flight mass spectroscopy to obtain more evidence. This spectroscopic technique is capable of identifying molecules with different mass to charge ratios (m/z). As shown in Figure 2, after treating the buckyball and Pt-loaded KB with deuterium molecules (D2), the spectrum (red) exhibited two additional peaks with m/z of ~723.5 and ~724.5 (highlighted by arrows in the figure) compared to those of the buckyball reference (black) and the buckyball and Pt-loaded KB prior to D2 dosage (blue). The authors ascribed these two new peaks to single D atom-adsorbed buckyballs with different amounts of carbon isotopes (12C and 13C). The presence of the two new peaks clearly showed that buckyballs could host hydrogen atoms to enhance the spillover effect. In addition, upon exposing the D-containing buckballs to air, both of the newly-merged peaks disappeared, suggesting that D atom adsorption was reversible.

Figure 2. The time-of-flight mass spectroscopy spectra of buckyball (black), Pt and buckyball-decorated KB before (blue) and after (red) exposure to D2, and after exposure to air (green). Pictures on the right show the molecular structure of a buckyball molecule and two deuterium-incorporated buckyball molecules (with different number of 13C isotope). Deuterium is used to avoid the interference from the 13C isotope.

This work could serve as a reference for future studies of the spillover effect induced by buckyballs interacting with other metal nanoparticles. The increasing availability of in-depth fundamental insight could refine our understanding of ambient-temperature hydrogen storage.

To find out more please read:

Enhanced Hydrogen Spillover to Fullerene at Ambient Temperature

Hirotomo Nishihara, Tomoya Simura and Takashi Kyotani

Chem. Commun. 2018, DOI: 10.1039/c8cc00265g

About the blogger:

Tianyu Liu obtained his Ph.D. (2017) in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Santa Cruz in United States. He is passionate about scientific communication to introduce cutting-edge research to both the general public and scientists with diverse research expertise. He is a blog writer for Chem. Commun. and Chem. Sci. More information about him can be found at http://liutianyuresearch.weebly.com/.

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An Organometallic Toolbox for the Study and Synthesis of Unique N-Heterocyclic Carbenes

N-heterocyclic carbenes (NHCs) are an interesting example of chemical curiosity turned commonplace. NHCs are stable singlet carbenes located within an N-heterocycle, in which the carbon centre bears an sp2 hybridised pair of electrons. As early as 1835 chemists were thinking about carbenes, with Dumas’ optimistic (if unsuccessful) attempt to synthesise the methylene carbene by dehydrating methanol. For many years the intentional study of carbenes was considered too demanding because of their instability, and so they remained in relative obscurity. A number of seminal papers changed this preconception; in particular, a report by Wanzlick in 1968 reporting the synthesis of the first NHC-metal complex using mercury and the first synthesis of a stable and isolable NHC by Arduengo in 1991.

Intensification in research and interest in NHCs over the past thirty years may have originated with these seminal reports, but it continues because of the success of NHCs in catalysis: both as strongly σ-donating metal ligands and nucleophilic organocatalysts. One of the most valuable features of NHCs is the ability to tailor their steric and electronic properties by altering the heterocyclic ring and N-bound substituents. Accordingly, the study of NHC reactivity and the development of methods to functionalise NHCs are essential for continued innovation in this field.

Drs Marina Uzelac and Eva Hevia at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, have written a review article summarising organometallic methods to metallate N-heterocyclic carbenes. The work summarises metallation of all three components of the NHC: the carbenic carbon, the heterocyclic backbone and the N-bound substituents.

The lithiated complex (1), synthesised by treatment of the N-heterocyclic carbene NHC with nBuLi, can be transmetallated at the C4 position by a number of main group elements to give a variety of bimetallic complexes (2). These complexes can be selectively quenched to generate NHC complexes with unconventional regiochemistry (3).

The lithiated complex (1) can be transmetallated at the C4 position by a number of main group elements to give a variety of bimetallic complexes (2). These complexes can be selectively quenched to generate NHC complexes with unconventional regiochemistry (3).

To exemplify the breadth of research discussed; beginning with 2,6-diisopropylphenyl (dipp) substituted imidazole-2-ylidenes, the reactivity of the NHC can be unlocked by initial addition of an alkali metal such as lithium, sodium or potassium (see figure). Metallation at the C4 position occurs by deprotonation of the vinyl protons in the NHC backbone, while a second metal coordinates to the carbene electron pair at the C2 position. From this species (1) it is possible to transmetallate the C4 position with a less-polar metal such as zinc, aluminium, gallium, boron or iron to furnish a bi-metallic NHC (2). Interestingly, addition of an electrophilic methyl or proton source to this species exclusively quenches the C2 position, generating a suite of unconventional complexes (3) with the carbene electron pair positioned on the C4 carbon.

Lithiation of NHC complexes: a) deprotonation of the backbone of NHC-borane complex; b) co-complexation of NHC-zinc complex with alkyllithium affording lithium zincate; c) deprotonation of the abnormal carbene complex.

Reactivity of main-group NHC complexes towards lithiation.

Further studies investigate how different reagents influence the regioselectively and extent of metallation, how metallated NHCs can activate small-molecules such as carbon dioxide, conditions which can lead to the metallation of N-dipp substitutents, as well as products and speciation following treatment of NHCs with a variety of bimetallic reagents.

In addition to expanding the knowledge of NHC reactivity, the work summarised in this review provides a reference and inspiration to researchers seeking to tailor NHCs for unique applications in synthesis and catalysis.

To find out more please read:

Polar organometallic strategies for regioselective C-H metallation of N-heterocyclic carbenes

Marina Uzelac and Eva Hevia.
Chem. Commun., 2018, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/c8cc00049b

About the author:

Zoë Hearne is a PhD candidate in chemistry at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Chao-Jun Li. She hails from Canberra, Australia, where she completed her undergraduate degree. Her current research focuses on transition metal catalysis to effect novel transformations, and out of the lab she is an enthusiastic chemistry tutor and science communicator.

 

 

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Gold Rocks the Casbah

Researchers at the University of Texas have developed an inventive method to deliver molecules into the cell’s nucleus. Advances in gene therapy and the development of drugs that target DNA, the transcription machinery and other regulatory systems all rely on effective transport of molecules into the nucleus. Furthermore, achieving selective delivery of drugs reduces toxicity to non-target organs while maintaining the therapeutic effect.

Towards this aim, the authors delivered liposomes coated with clusters of gold nanoparticles into the cytoplasm. Laser irradiation of the cells heats the nanoparticles to high temperatures resulting in vapourisation of the water-based cytosol, and the transient formation of nanobubbles. The effect of this is an increase in the porosity of the nuclear envelope, enabling the transfer of various macromolecules from the cytoplasm into the nucleus. The authors describe this technique as ‘nanomechanical transduction’ because it is hypothesised that the mechanical effects brought on by the rapid growth and collapse (20 – 50 ns lifetimes) of the bubbles is responsible for the observed increase in porosity.

Local heating of gold nanoparticles and the subsequent formation of nanobubbles occurs due to ‘plasmon resonance’, whereby an electromagnetic field interacts with gold on the surface of the liposome and drives free-electron oscillation in resonance with the incident laser.

A diagram showing nanomechanical transduction. A gold-coated nanoparticle liposome enters the cell and, upon activation by a laser pulse, creates nanobubbles which causes mechanical disruptions in the cell and increased permeability of the nuclear membrane so molecules such as plasmids can enter.

A diagram showing nanomechanical transduction. A gold-coated liposome enters the cell and, upon activation by a laser pulse, creates nanobubbles and mechanical disruption within the cell, resulting in increased permeability of the nuclear membrane.

As a proof-of-concept the authors investigated whether nanomechanical transduction can improve the nuclear localisation of two different types of macromolecule: a dextran polymer labelled with a fluorescent dye, and a plasmid encoding the green fluorescent protein. In the first experiment, cells containing the dextran polymer were incubated with plasmonic liposomes and subjected to a near-infrared laser pulse. Up to 70% fluorescence intensity was observed in the nucleus compared to the cytoplasm, far exceeding the result from control experiments using electroporation to increase cell membrane permeability. In a similar way, nanomechanical transduction resulted in a 2.7 fold increase in the expression of the green-fluorescent protein compared to using electroporation, demonstrating efficient delivery of the plasmid into the nucleus.

The authors entitle their paper ‘rock the nucleus’ and, unintentional reference or not, I think a Casbah (one meaning is the central keep, or citadel, of a walled city) is a rather fitting analogy for the nucleus: the command post of the cell, and safeguard of genetic information. The authors of this work offer a sophisticated yet general method for molecules to breach the walls.

To find out more please read:

Rock the nucleus: significantly enhanced nuclear membrane permeability and gene transfection by plasmonic nanobubble induced nanomechanical transduction

Xiuying Li, Peiyuan Kang, Zhuo Chen, Sneha Lal, Li Zhang, Jeremiah J. Gassensmith and Zhenpeng Qin.
Chem. Commun., 2008, Advance Article
DOI: 10.1039/c7cc09613e

About the author:

Zoë Hearne is a PhD candidate in chemistry at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, under the supervision of Professor Chao-Jun Li. She hails from Canberra, Australia, where she completed her undergraduate degree. Her current research focuses on transition metal catalysis to effect novel transformations, and out of the lab she is an enthusiastic chemistry tutor and science communicator.

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