Quantum sized gold nanoclusters with atomic precision

Acc Chem Res. 2012 Sep 18;45(9):1470-9. doi: 10.1021/ar200331z. Epub 2012 Jun 21.


Gold nanoparticles typically have a metallic core, and the electronic conduction band consists of quasicontinuous energy levels (i.e. spacing δ ≪ k(B)T, where k(B)T is the thermal energy at temperature T (typically room temperature) and k(B) is the Boltzmann constant). Electrons in the conduction band roam throughout the metal core, and light can collectively excite these electrons to give rise to plasmonic responses. This plasmon resonance accounts for the beautiful ruby-red color of colloidal gold first observed by Faraday back in 1857. On the other hand, when gold nanoparticles become extremely small (<2 nm in diameter), significant quantization occurs to the conduction band. These quantum-sized nanoparticles constitute a new class of nanomaterial and have received much attention in recent years. To differentiate quantum-sized nanoparticles from conventional plasmonic gold nanoparticles, researchers often refer to the ultrasmall nanoparticles as nanoclusters. In this Account, we chose several typical sizes of gold nanoclusters, including Au(25)(SR)(18), Au(38)(SR)(24), Au(102)(SR)(44), and Au(144)(SR)(60), to illustrate the novel properties of metal nanoclusters imparted by quantum size effects. In the nanocluster size regime, many of the physical and chemical properties of gold nanoparticles are fundamentally altered. Gold nanoclusters have discrete electronic energy levels as opposed to the continuous band in plasmonic nanoparticles. Quantum-sized nanoparticles also show multiple optical absorption peaks in the optical spectrum versus a single surface plasmon resonance (SPR) peak at 520 nm for spherical gold nanocrystals. Although larger nanocrystals show an fcc structure, nanoclusters often have non-fcc atomic packing structures. Nanoclusters also have unique fluorescent, chiral, and magnetic properties. Due to the strong quantum confinement effect, adding or removing one gold atom significantly changes the structure and the electronic and optical properties of the nanocluster. Therefore, precise atomic control of nanoclusters is critically important: the nanometer precision typical of conventional nanoparticles is not sufficient. Atomically precise nanoclusters are represented by molecular formulas (e.g. Au(n)(SR)(m) for thiolate-protected ones, where n and m denote the respective number of gold atoms and ligands). Recently, major advances in the synthesis and structural characterization of molecular purity gold nanoclusters have made in-depth investigations of the size evolution of metal nanoclusters possible. Metal nanoclusters lie in the intermediate regime between localized atomic states and delocalized band structure in terms of electronic properties. We anticipate that future research on quantum-sized nanoclusters will stimulate broad scientific and technological interests in this special type of metal nanomaterial.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Gold / chemistry*
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Models, Molecular
  • Particle Size
  • Quantum Theory*
  • Temperature


  • Gold