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Hybrid organic–inorganic rotaxanes and molecular shuttles


The tetravalency of carbon and its ability to form covalent bonds with itself and other elements enables large organic molecules with complex structures, functions and dynamics to be constructed. The varied electronic configurations and bonding patterns of inorganic elements, on the other hand, can impart diverse electronic, magnetic, catalytic and other useful properties to molecular-level structures. Some hybrid organic–inorganic materials that combine features of both chemistries have been developed, most notably metal–organic frameworks1, dense and extended organic–inorganic frameworks2 and coordination polymers3. Metal ions have also been incorporated into molecules that contain interlocked subunits, such as rotaxanes4,5,6,7 and catenanes6,8, and structures in which many inorganic clusters encircle polymer chains have been described9. Here we report the synthesis of a series of discrete rotaxane molecules in which inorganic and organic structural units are linked together mechanically at the molecular level. Structural units (dialkyammonium groups) in dumb-bell-shaped organic molecules template the assembly of essentially inorganic ‘rings’ about ‘axles’ to form rotaxanes consisting of various numbers of rings and axles. One of the rotaxanes behaves as a ‘molecular shuttle’10: the ring moves between two binding sites on the axle in a large-amplitude motion typical of some synthetic molecular machine systems11,12,13,14,15. The architecture of the rotaxanes ensures that the electronic, magnetic and paramagnetic characteristics of the inorganic rings—properties that could make them suitable as qubits for quantum computers16,17,18—can influence, and potentially be influenced by, the organic portion of the molecule.

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Figure 1: Synthesis and X-ray crystal structure of hybrid organic-inorganic [2]rotaxane 2c.
Figure 2: 1H NMR spectra (500 MHz, C2D2Cl4).
Figure 3: Synthesis of hybrid organic–inorganic [3]rotaxane 5b, [4]rotaxane 6b and molecular shuttle 4a.
Figure 4: X-ray crystal structures.

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We thank J. Bella for the exchange spectroscopy NMR experiments, W. Sun for assistance with the preparation of thread 1c and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) National Mass Spectrometry Service Centre (Swansea, UK) for high-resolution mass spectrometry. This research was funded by the European Commission (through the NoE ‘MAGMANet’) and EPSRC. The Advanced Light Source is supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the US Department of Energy under contract no. DE-AC02-05CH11231. D.S. is a Swiss National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow. D.A.L. is an EPSRC Senior Research Fellow and holds a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

Author Contributions C.-F.L., D.S. and G.A.T. carried out the synthesis and characterization studies, helped plan the experiments and participated in the preparation of the manuscript. R.G.P. and S.J.T. collected the X-ray data and solved the crystal structures. D.A.L. and R.E.P.W. helped plan the experiments and prepare the manuscript.

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Correspondence to David A. Leigh or Richard E. P. Winpenny.

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The crystallographic data and experimental details of the structural refinement for the X-ray crystal structures reported in this paper have been deposited at the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre, under deposition numbers CCDC 705132–CCDC 705135. These data can be obtained free of charge from the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (

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Lee, CF., Leigh, D., Pritchard, R. et al. Hybrid organic–inorganic rotaxanes and molecular shuttles. Nature 458, 314–318 (2009).

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