Researchers have created a tiny camera that allows them to observe chemical reactions in real time.
Nature controls the assembly of complex architectures through self-limiting processes; however, few artificial strategies to mimic these processes have been reported to date. Researchers from the University of Cambridge have made a tiny camera that allows scientists to observe chemical reactions in real time. With this camera, the researchers were able to observe chemical species which had been previously theorized but not directly observed.
The camera developed by the researchers combines tiny semiconductor nanocrystals called quantum dots and gold nanoparticles using molecular glue called cucurbituril (CB). When this assembly is added to water with the molecule to be studied, the components self-assemble in seconds into a stable, powerful tool that allows the real-time monitoring of chemical reactions.
Light is harvested within the semiconductors, inducing electron transfer processes like those that occur in photosynthesis.
“In order to develop new materials with superior properties, we often combine different chemical species together to come up with a hybrid material that has the properties we want,” said Professor Oren Scherman from Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, who led the research. “But making these hybrid nanostructures is difficult, and you often end up with uncontrolled growth or materials that are unstable.”
The molecular glue interacts strongly with both semiconductor quantum dots and gold nanoparticles. The small semiconductors were used to control the assembly of larger nanoparticles through a process they coined interfacial self-limiting aggregation. This process leads to permeable and stable hybrid materials that interact with light.
“This platform is a really big toolbox considering the number of metal and semiconductor building blocks that can be now coupled together using this chemistry– it opens up lots of new possibilities for imaging chemical reactions and sensing through taking snapshots of monitored chemical systems,” said Sokołowski. “The simplicity of the setup means that researchers no longer need complex, expensive methods to get the same results.”
The researcher has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.