"Impact of Rigidity on Molecular Self-Assembly"

Ella M. King: Matthew A. Gebbie, and Nicholas A. Melosh; Langmuir, 12/03/19.

Additional Authors: Matthew A. Gebbie, and Nicholas A. Melosh


Rigid, cage-like molecules, like diamondoids, show unique self-assembly behavior, such as templating 1-D nanomaterial assembly via pathways that are typically blocked for such bulky substituents. We investigate molecular forces between diamondoids to explore why molecules with high structural rigidity exhibit these novel assembly pathways. The rigid nature of diamondoids significantly lowers configurational entropy, and we hypothesize that this influences molecular interaction forces. To test this concept, we calculated the distancedependent impact of entropy on assembly using molecular dynamics simulations. To isolate pairwise entropic and enthalpic contributions to assembly, we considered pairs of molecules in a thermal bath, fixed at set intermolecular separations but otherwise allowed to freely move. By comparing diamondoids to linear alkanes, we draw out the impact of rigidity on the entropy and enthalpy of pairwise interactions. We find that linear alkanes actually exhibit stronger van der Waals interactions than diamondoids at contact, because the bulky structure of diamondoids induces larger net atomic separations. Yet, we also find that diamondoids pay lower entropic penalties when assembling into contact pairs. Thus, the cage-like shape of diamondoids introduces an enthalpic penalty at contact, but the penalty is counterbalanced by entropic effects. Investigating the distance dependence of entropic forces provides a mechanism to explore how rigidity influences molecular assembly. Our results show that low entropic penalties paid by diamondoids can explain the effectiveness of diamondoids in templating nanomaterial assembly. Hence, tuning molecular rigidity can be an effective strategy for controlling the assembly of functional materials, such as biomimetic surfaces and nanoscale materials.

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