Self-Assembly of Colloidal Nanocrystals: From Intricate Structures to Functional Materials

Chem Rev. 2016 Sep 28;116(18):11220-89. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrev.6b00196. Epub 2016 Aug 23.


Chemical methods developed over the past two decades enable preparation of colloidal nanocrystals with uniform size and shape. These Brownian objects readily order into superlattices. Recently, the range of accessible inorganic cores and tunable surface chemistries dramatically increased, expanding the set of nanocrystal arrangements experimentally attainable. In this review, we discuss efforts to create next-generation materials via bottom-up organization of nanocrystals with preprogrammed functionality and self-assembly instructions. This process is often driven by both interparticle interactions and the influence of the assembly environment. The introduction provides the reader with a practical overview of nanocrystal synthesis, self-assembly, and superlattice characterization. We then summarize the theory of nanocrystal interactions and examine fundamental principles governing nanocrystal self-assembly from hard and soft particle perspectives borrowed from the comparatively established fields of micrometer colloids and block copolymer assembly. We outline the extensive catalog of superlattices prepared to date using hydrocarbon-capped nanocrystals with spherical, polyhedral, rod, plate, and branched inorganic core shapes, as well as those obtained by mixing combinations thereof. We also provide an overview of structural defects in nanocrystal superlattices. We then explore the unique possibilities offered by leveraging nontraditional surface chemistries and assembly environments to control superlattice structure and produce nonbulk assemblies. We end with a discussion of the unique optical, magnetic, electronic, and catalytic properties of ordered nanocrystal superlattices, and the coming advances required to make use of this new class of solids.