Controlling Structure and Dynamics Across Size Scales

Research in our group seeks to control structure and dynamics right across molecular, supramolecular and nanomaterial size-scales. Tremendous synthetic and analytical advances have led to the creation of amazing supramolecular systems, and preparation of nanoparticles from a whole host of materials. A key challenge now is to integrate these new regions of chemical space with each other, and with other components – capabilities that will be critical to realizing the potential of nanomaterials and supramolecular systems alike.

By learning how to construct, interrogate and manipulate systems that exploit dynamic covalent bonds, noncovalent interactions and non-trivial molecular architectures, we aspire to combine nanoparticle and molecule building blocks with the same predictability as can currently be achieved for molecular synthons; to create smart nanoparticles with stimuli-responsive properties; and to harness controlled molecular-level motion to perform useful tasks.

Dynamic molecular, supramolecular, and nanoscale systems are ubiquitous in nature, yet they are almost entirely absent from 21st century human technology. Undoubtedly there are great rewards to be had from conquering these size regimes, and many fundamental lessons to be learnt along the way.

Some ongoing projects in our group include the following.

Dynamic covalent nanoparticle building blocks

Dynamic covalent reactions combine the error-correcting and stimuli-responsive features of equilibrium processes with the stability and structural diversity of covalent chemistry. Conferring this type of reactivity on nanoparticles defines a new and flexible approach to controlling nanoparticle surface functionality. This allows us for example to selectively attach or detach specific molecular fragments, reversibly switch nanoparticle properties, or achieve reconfigurable nanoparticle self-assembly.


Noncovalent assembly of nanoparticle superstructures

Weak noncovalent interactions between structurally simple functional groups can be multiplied over many individual molecule-to-molecule contacts when two nanoscale surfaces come together. This can be exploited to achieve flexible and scalable methods for the bottom-up self-assembly of hierarchical nanostructures.


Putting molecular machines to work

There has been significant progress in our understanding of how to design and create synthetic molecular machines. However, these fantastic molecular devices have yet to prove their technological worth – in stark contrast to the widespread use of controlled molecular motion in nature. One place where molecular machines may have an important impact is for controlling and modulating nanoparticle properties and behaviour.