Exceptionally large positive and negative anisotropic thermal expansion of an organic crystalline material

Nat Mater. 2010 Jan;9(1):36-9. doi: 10.1038/nmat2583. Epub 2009 Nov 22.


In general, the relatively modest expansion experienced by most materials on heating is caused by increasing anharmonic vibrational amplitudes of the constituent atoms, ions or molecules. This phenomenon is called positive thermal expansion (PTE) and usually occurs along all three crystallographic axes. In very rare cases, structural peculiarities may give rise either to anomalously large PTE, or to negative thermal expansion (NTE, when lattice dimensions shrink with heating). As NTE and unusually large PTE are extremely uncommon for molecular solids, mechanisms that might give rise to such phenomena are poorly understood. Here we show that the packing arrangement of a simple dumbbell-shaped organic molecule, coupled with its intermolecular interactions, facilitates a cooperative mechanical response of the three-dimensional framework to changes in temperature. A series of detailed structural determinations at 15-K intervals has allowed us to visualize the process at the molecular level. The underlying mechanism is reminiscent of a three-dimensional (3D) folding trellis and results in exceptionally large and reversible uniaxial PTE and biaxial NTE of the crystal. Understanding such mechanisms is highly desirable for the future design of sensitive thermomechanical actuators.

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