Ionic self-assembly for functional hierarchical nanostructured materials

Charl F J Faul*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

160 Citations (Scopus)


CONSPECTUS: The challenge of constructing soft functional materials over multiple length scales can be addressed by a number of different routes based on the principles of self-assembly, with the judicious use of various noncovalent interactions providing the tools to control such self-assembly processes. It is within the context of this challenge that we have extensively explored the use of an important approach for materials construction over the past decade: exploiting electrostatic interactions in our ionic self-assembly (ISA) method. In this approach, cooperative assembly of carefully chosen charged surfactants and oppositely charged building blocks (or tectons) provides a facile noncovalent route for the rational design and production of functional nanostructured materials. Generally, our research efforts have developed with an initial focus on establishing rules for the construction of novel noncovalent liquid-crystalline (LC) materials. We found that the use of double-tailed surfactant species (especially branched double-tailed surfactants) led to the facile formation of thermotropic (and, in certain cases, lyotropic) phases, as demonstrated by extensive temperature-dependent X-ray and light microscopy investigations. From this core area of activity, research expanded to cover issues beyond simple construction of anisotropic materials, turning to the challenge of inclusion and exploitation of switchable functionality. The use of photoactive azobenzene-containing ISA materials afforded opportunities to exploit both photo-orientation and surface relief grating formation. The preparation of these anisotropic LC materials was of interest, as the aim was the facile production of disposable and low-cost optical components for display applications and data storage. However, the prohibitive cost of the photo-orientation processes hampered further exploitation of these materials. We also expanded our activities to explore ISA of biologically relevant tectons, specifically deoxyguanosine monophosphate. This approach proved, in combination with block copolymer (BCP) self-assembly, very fruitful for the construction of complex and hierarchical functional materials across multiple length scales. Molecular frustration and incommensurability, which played a major role in structure formation in combination with nucleotide assembly, have now become important tools to tune supramolecular structure formation. These concepts, that is, the use of BCP assembly and incommensurability, in combination with metal-containing polymeric materials, have provided access to novel supramolecular morphologies and, more importantly, design rules to prepare such constructs. These design rules are now also being applied to the assembly of electroactive oligo(aniline)-based materials for the preparation of highly ordered functional soft materials, and present an opportunity for materials development for applications in energy storage. In this Account, we therefore discuss investigations into (i) the inclusion and preparation of supramolecular photoactive and electroactive materials; (ii) the exploitation and control over multiple noncovalent interactions to fine-tune function, internal structure, and long-range order and (iii) exploration of construction over multiple length scales by combination of ISA with well-known BCP self-assembly. Combination of ISA with tuning of volume fractions, mutual compatibility, and molecular frustration now provides a versatile tool kit to construct complex and hierarchical functional materials in a facile noncovalent way. A direct challenge for future ISA activities would certainly be the construction of functional mesoscale objects. However, within a broader scienti fic context, the challenge would be to exploit this powerful assembly tool for application in areas of research with societal impact, for example, energy storage and generation. The hope is that this Account will provide a platform for such future research activities and opportunities. (Figure Presented).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3428-3438
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

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