Supramolecular chemistry, aka chemistry beyond the molecule, in which molecules and molecular complexes are held together by non-covalent bonds, is just beginning to come into its own with the emergence of nanotechnology. Metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are commanding much of the attention because of their appetite for greenhouse gases, but a new player has joined the field – supramolecular organic frameworks (SOFs). Researchers with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)'s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have unveiled the first two-dimensional SOFs that self-assemble in solution, an important breakthrough that holds implications for sensing and separation technologies, energy sciences, and, perhaps most importantly, biomimetics.
"We've demonstrated the first soluble single-layer 2D honeycomb SOF that combines the ordering and porous features of MOFs with the solubility of supramolecular polymers," says Yi Liu, a chemist with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division. "The results prove that we can exercise precise control of dimensionality within structures through a solution-based supramolecular approach, which paves the way for the assembly of more advanced architectures that can be processed in solution."
Liu, who oversees the supramolecular electronics research group at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, a DOE national nanoscience user facility, is one of three corresponding authors of a paper describing this research in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS). The paper is titled "Toward a Single-Layer Two-Dimensional Honeycomb Supramolecular Organic Framework in Water." The other corresponding authors are Xin Zhao and Zhan-Ting Li, of China's Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry and Fudan University.
Traditional molecular chemistry involves the strong covalent bonds formed by the sharing or exchange of electrons between the atoms that make up a molecular system. Supramolecular chemistry involves systems that are held together by a multitude of weaker, non-covalent connections, such as hydrogen bonds and electrostatic and Van der Waals forces. Nature uses supramolecular chemistry to form the double-helix of DNA or to fold proteins. For nanotechnology, single-layers of 2D structurally ordered materials – along the lines of graphene - could fill a great many needs but the key is to process them in solution.