Multi-Functional Nanoscale Platforms: Bridging the Gap between Molecular and Macroscopic Worlds

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Chemistry


The control and manipulation of molecules is one of the fundamental challenges of Nanoscience. In this project we intend to build a nanoscale bridge to the molecular world that would enable the study and fabrication of molecules with atomic precision. The aim is to construct addressable, multi-functional nanoscale platforms based on nanotubes (Multi-Functional Nanotubes, MFNT) that are able to control the physiochemical states of molecules and harness their properties for practical applications.

The confinement of molecules inside nanotubes is known to have profound effects on the positions, orientations, and rotational and translation motions of guest-molecules. However, in most cases nanotubes play the role of a passive container influencing molecular behaviour simply due to the restricted space available, thus leading to static molecular architectures. In this project, we will exploit physical (electrical and thermal conductivity, or optical transparency) and chemical (surface charge and functionality) properties of carbon, TiO2 and BN nanotubes to develop MFNT platforms responsive to external stimuli (heat, light, electric potential, or pH). The MFNT system will serve as a conduit for external macroscopic stimuli, channelling them to the level of individual molecules.

Our approach will enable the addressing of optical, electrical and magnetic states of guest-molecules entrapped within MFNT, which will be gauged by spectroscopy and electron microscopy measurement. The control of chemical reactivity of molecules is particularly important as new, previously unknown chemical transformations triggered inside MFNTs may lead to molecular materials with unique structures and properties that are not accessible by any existing approaches.

This ambitious interdisciplinary project, developing at the boundary of physics, chemistry, and materials science, has the potential to change the way we make and study molecules and could provide revolutionary applications for future technologies.

Planned Impact

This project is a relatively short (18 months) and highly-focused research programme that is set to discover radically new ways of making molecules and improving well-known chemical reactions of practical importance. Lying at the core of the project, the concept of nanoscale confinement has the broadest range of implications for the interface between chemistry, physics and material science, fundamentally impacting all these disciplines as well as leading to significant improvements in industrial synthesis which will build on these principles in the long term. Three specific streams of impact are identifies as follows:

Academic community:
Academics researching areas of chemistry related to nanoscience, organic synthesis and catalysis will be the primary beneficiaries from the outputs of this project. The PI has a wide network of academic collaborators who will receive materials prepared in this project for exploring their physiochemical properties by a wide range of experimental techniques.
A highly interdisciplinary nature of this project will stimulate interest from disciplines beyond chemistry. Molecule-nanotube hybrid materials to be constructed and molecular nanoscale transformations to be established in the project will be relevant to nanotechnology, nanomaterials, molecular and surface physics areas of research.

UK Economy:
While the research programme is explicitly aimed at generating fundamental scientific impact, some important discoveries are likely to be exploited in industrial processes. Multi-functional nanoscale platforms will be applied to existing chemical processes of industrial importance, and are expected to enhance the efficiency of existing synthetic schemes through nanoscale confinement. Furthermore, this project aims to demonstrate entirely new types of chemical transformations leading to unique products that cannot be obtained by any other means. If successful, this methodology may change the ways we control chemical reactions and make molecules, thus giving a leading edge to UK chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

There is a strong interest in nanoscale materials and phenomena in the wider society. Unusual physical and chemical phenomena emerging at nanoscale are stimulating interest in physical sciences among the general public. The results of this project will be widely publicised to inform stakeholders and influence decisions of policymakers as well as general public, using the effective mechanisms established by the PI.


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Aygün M (2018) Magnetically Recyclable Catalytic Carbon Nanoreactors in Advanced Functional Materials

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Botka B (2014) Interactions and chemical transformations of coronene inside and outside carbon nanotubes. in Small (Weinheim an der Bergstrasse, Germany)

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Chamberlain TW (2015) Isotope substitution extends the lifetime of organic molecules in transmission electron microscopy. in Small (Weinheim an der Bergstrasse, Germany)

Description Carbon nanotubes have been demonstrated as highly effective nano-reactors in over 15 different types of reactions:
1) confinement of reacting molecules at nanoscale allowed control of the reaction selectivity;
2) catalytic reactions carried out in nanotubes enabled improvements in selectivity and, most importantly, durability and effective re-usability of catalyst, including precious metals (Pt, Pd, Ru);
3) carbon nanotubes have been integrated in electrochemical devices that enable addressing of redox-active confined molecules, leading to improved electrical communication between the molecules and the electrode, and drastically enhancing durability of electrocatalytic nanoparticles (e.g. Pt) confined in nanotubes, outperforming state of the art materials for key technological applications, such as fuel cells.

Overall, this project demonstrated nanotubes as a physical bridge between the macro-world and the world of molecules, opening the door for new ways of making and studying molecules.
Exploitation Route Continuous flow catalytic nanoreactors will be scaled up for industrial synthesis.
New methodologies for recycling and reusing precious metal catalysts.
New generation of fuel cells with a much longer useful lifetime.
Energy storage materials.
Sectors Chemicals,Energy,Environment

Description New ways of studying and making molecules in carbon nano-reactors, including applications for detection and decontamination of hazardous materials, new types of electrocatalysts for fuel cells (outperforming current materials) and durable materials for batteries.
Sector Chemicals,Energy,Environment
Description Horizon 2020
Amount € 2,962,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2016 
End 12/2018
Description Jeremy Sloan, Warwick University 
Organisation University of Warwick
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Synthesis of carbon nanomaterials
Collaborator Contribution Advanced TEM image simulation and analysis
Impact Joint publication in Journal of American Chemical Society in 2016
Start Year 2015
Description Kazu Suenaga, Tsukuba, Japan 
Organisation National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology
Country Japan 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Synthesis and advanced characterization of carbon nanomaterials
Collaborator Contribution Advanced TEM and STEM low-voltage analysis
Impact Joint publication in Journal American Chemical Society in 2016
Start Year 2015
Description University of Ulm - Prof. Ute Kaiser 
Organisation University of Ulm
Country Germany 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I provide nanomaterials for advanced electron microscopy experiments in Ulm.
Collaborator Contribution Collaborators in Ulm University (Germany) enable access to cutting-edge electron microscopy facilities essential for my work.
Impact Several high-profile publications (including 3 Nature group articles), co-supervision of PhD students.
Start Year 2007