Reversible trapping and reaction acceleration within dynamically self-assembling nanoflasks

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The chemical behaviour of molecules can be significantly modified by confinement to volumes comparable to the dimensions of the molecules. Although such confined spaces can be found in various nanostructured materials, such as zeolites, nanoporous organic frameworks and colloidal nanocrystal assemblies, the slow diffusion of molecules in and out of these materials has greatly hampered studying the effect of confinement on their physicochemical properties. Here, we show that this diffusion limitation can be overcome by reversibly creating and destroying confined environments by means of ultraviolet and visible light irradiation. We use colloidal nanocrystals functionalized with light-responsive ligands that readily self-assemble and trap various molecules from the surrounding bulk solution. Once trapped, these molecules can undergo chemical reactions with increased rates and with stereoselectivities significantly different from those in bulk solution. Illumination with visible light disassembles these nanoflasks, releasing the product in solution and thereby establishes a catalytic cycle. These dynamic nanoflasks can be useful for studying chemical reactivities in confined environments and for synthesizing molecules that are otherwise hard to achieve in bulk solution.

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Figure 1: Reversible self-assembly of azobenzene-functionalized nanoparticles and nanoflasks formation.
Figure 2: Trapping of water within self-assembling nanoflasks.
Figure 3: Quantifying and visualizing the trapping process.
Figure 4: Accelerating chemical reactions in dynamically self-assembling nanoflasks.


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This work was supported by the European Research Council (grant no. 336080; R.K.), the NSF Division of Materials Research (grant no. 1309765; P.K.) and the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund (grant no. 53062-ND6; P.K.). The authors thank R. Neumann and his group for the use of their gas chromatograph and T. Zdobinsky for technical assistance.

Author information

R.K. conceived the project. H.Z., T.U., M.S., K.K., D.M., P.K.K. and J.-W.L. performed the experiments and analysed the data. P.K. and S.S. performed the computer simulations. R.K. wrote the paper.

Correspondence to Rafal Klajn.

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Zhao, H., Sen, S., Udayabhaskararao, T. et al. Reversible trapping and reaction acceleration within dynamically self-assembling nanoflasks. Nature Nanotech 11, 82–88 (2016) doi:10.1038/nnano.2015.256

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