Extended surface chirality from supramolecular assemblies of adsorbed chiral molecules

Nature. 2000 Mar 23;404(6776):376-9. doi: 10.1038/35006031.


The increasing demand of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries for enantiomerically pure compounds has spurred the development of a range of so-called 'chiral technologies' (ref. 1), which aim to exert the ultimate control over a chemical reaction by directing its enantioselectivity. Heterogeneous enantioselective catalysis is particularly attractive because it allows the production and ready separation of large quantities of chiral product while using only small quantities of catalyst. Heterogeneous enantioselectivity is usually induced by adsorbing chiral molecules onto catalytically active surfaces. A mimic of one such catalyst is formed by adsorbing (R,R)-tartaric acid molecules on Cu(110) surfaces: this generates a variety of surface phases, of which only one is potentially catalytically active, and leaves the question of how adsorbed chiral molecules give rise to enantioselectivity. Here we show that the active phase consists of extended supramolecular assemblies of adsorbed (R,R)-tartaric acid, which destroy existing symmetry elements of the underlying metal and directly bestow chirality to the modified surface. The adsorbed assemblies create chiral 'channels' exposing bare metal atoms, and it is these chiral spaces that we believe to be responsible for imparting enantioselectivity, by forcing the orientation of reactant molecules docking onto catalytically active metal sites. Our findings demonstrate that it is possible to sustain a single chiral domain across an extended surface--provided that reflection domains of opposite handedness are removed by a rigid and chiral local adsorption geometry, and that inequivalent rotation domains are removed by successful matching of the rotational symmetry of the adsorbed molecule with that of the underlying metal surface.