Anisotropic Self-Assembly of Hairy Inorganic Nanoparticles
Conspectus Current interest in functional assemblies of inorganic nanoparticles (NPs) stems from their collective properties and diverse applications ranging from nanomedicines to optically active metamaterials. Coating the surface of NPs with polymers allows for tailoring of the interactions between NPs to assemble them into hybrid nanocomposites with targeted architectures. This class of building blocks is termed “hairy” inorganic NPs (HINPs). Regiospecific attachment of polymers has been used to achieve directional interactions for HINP assembly. However, to date anisotropic surface functionalization of NPs still remains a challenge. This Account provides a review of the recent progress in the self-assembly of isotropically functionalized HINPs in both the condensed state and aqueous solution as well as the applications of assembled structures in such areas as biomedical imaging and therapy. It aims to provide fundamental mechanistic insights into the correlation between structural characteristics and self-assembly behaviors of HINPs, with an emphasis on HINPs made from NPs grafted with linear block copolymer (BCP) brushes. The key to the anisotropic self-assembly of these HINPs is the generation of directional interactions between HINPs by designing the surrounding medium (e.g., polymer matrix) or engineering the surface chemistry of the HINPs. First, HINPs can self-assemble into a variety of 1D, 2D, or 3D nanostructures with a nonisotropic local arrangement of NPs in films. Although a template is not always required, a polymer matrix (BCPs or supramolecules) can be used to assist the assembly of HINPs to form hybrid architectures. The interactions between brushes of neighboring HINPs or between HINPs and the polymer matrix can be modulated by varying the grafting density and length of one or multiple types of polymers on the surface of the NPs. Second, the rational design of deformable brushes of BCP or mixed homopolymer tethers on HINPs enables the anisotropic assembly of HINPs (in analogy to molecular self-assembly) into complex functional structures in selective solvents. It is evidenced that the directional interactions between BCP-grafted NPs arise from the redistribution and conformation change of the long, flexible polymer tethers, while the lateral phase separation of brushes on NP surfaces is responsible for the assembly of HINPs carrying binary immiscible homopolymers. For HINPs decorated with amphiphilic BCP brushes, their self-assembly can produce a variety of hybrid structures, such as vesicles with a monolayer of densely packed NPs in the membranes and with controlled sizes, shapes (e.g., spherical, hemispherical, disklike), and morphologies (e.g., patchy, Janus-like). This strategy allows fine-tuning of the NP organization and collective properties of HINP assemblies, thus facilitating their application in effective cancer imaging, therapy, and drug delivery. We expect that the design and assembly of such HINPs with isotropic functionalization is likely to open up new avenues for the fabrication of new functional nanocomposites and devices because of its simplicity, low cost, and ease of scale-up. Graphic Abstract
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