This research project, supported by the Solid State and Materials Chemistry (SSMC) Program in the Division of Materials Research, National Science Foundation aims to study kinetically-controlled syntheses of anisotropic gold nanostructures and their colloidal crystallization in aqueous media. While numerous 3D crystals of spherical particles are known, there are no analogous systems composed of rod-like building blocks. This is because nearly all existing syntheses of nanorods cannot control their length, which often makes them unsuitable for long range 3D crystallization. Seed-mediated synthesis of gold nanorods is a rare example of the reaction producing rods that are fairly well-defined in terms of their length. However, this method is currently non-scalable and cannot offer a sufficient quantity of nanorods to conduct a comprehensive study of their crystallization. This project will develop a route that can scale the synthesis up to four orders of magnitude. The key of the proposed approach is based on uniform amplification of preformed nanorods by reducing residual gold ions on their surface. Preliminary findings show that this goal can be achieved if the rate of reduction is very low, which allows for complete suppression of random nucleation events. Once the large quantities of near-monodisperse nanorods are produced, their crystallization into 3D single crystals will be systematically studied. The project will determine the role of various parameters such as size distribution and purity of rods, their interaction with the underlying substrates, and the rate of solvent evaporation. Of particular importance will be the role of CTAB surfactant that must be present in solution during crystallization. When the best combination of structural and physical variables is identified, periodic arrays of colloidal single crystals will be assembled on lithographically patterned substrates. Measurements of optical, electrical, and mechanical properties of crystals along and perpendicular to the axes of nanorods will be performed in order to assess their direction-dependent vectorial nature.
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY Significant interest in gold nanoparticles with controlled shapes has grown dramatically in the past decade. However, they are often too difficult to make and/or purify. The current commercial price of gold nanorods is more than 7,000 times the price of bulk gold. Therefore, a development of more efficient large-scale synthesis will resolve the issue of their accessibility, which is the main bottleneck of their real-life applications in anticancer therapy, military devices, and invisible cloak technology. Better understanding of mechanisms that govern the assembly of non-spherical particles into large crystals will offer novel types of nanomaterials with direction-dependent properties. The new scientific knowledge generated in the course of this project will be widely disseminated via information sharing techniques and Web2.0 communications. Video materials containing a detailed demonstration of the synthesis of gold nanorods and real-time imaging of 3D crystals by optical and electron microscopy will be posted on the YouTube and Rice University web sites. Of particular importance will be the interactions with science teachers from local middle schools that have a large population of minority students. The PI and his graduate students will use their extensive experience with molecular graphics for 3D visualization of nanostructures and colloidal assemblies in order to create a unique type of activity in Houston public schools that currently collaborate with Rice University. In addition, an exciting outreach activity is planned at the intersection of science and art, which will involve collaborative interactions with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.