Credit: © 2010 AAAS

Metal ions and organic ligands can be combined in a vast number of different ways to produce self-assembled complexes with a diverse range of structures, including relatively simple shapes such as triangles, squares and cubes, and more complicated interwoven topologies, such as catenanes and knots. In such multicomponent systems, both the coordination geometry of the metal ion and the shape of the organic ligand play a crucial role in determining the final structure of the assembly.

Now, a team of researchers led by Makoto Fujita at the University of Tokyo has investigated1 how subtle changes in the structure of a dipyridyl ligand affects the self-assembly of well-defined nanoscale coordination complexes. Using a ligand (L) in which two pyridyl rings are linked through a central furan unit, Fujita and co-workers were able to assemble Pd(II) ions (M) into an M12L24 coordination sphere 3.5 nm in diameter. By simply changing the central unit of the ligand to a thiophene ring, however, a larger 5-nm-diameter M24L48 structure was formed.

The difference in self-assembly behaviour is thought to arise from the different 'bite angle' of the two ligands — 149° for the thiophene ligand and 127° for the furan one. Fujita and co-workers also considered how the self-assembly process was affected by using mixtures of the two ligands in different ratios. Only a single product was formed in each case — the M24L48 structure for mixtures containing 30% or more of the thiophene ligand and the smaller M12L24 cage when the quantity dropped to 20% or lower.