Molecular "surgery" on a 23-gold-atom nanoparticle

Sci Adv. 2017 May 19;3(5):e1603193. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1603193. eCollection 2017 May.


Compared to molecular chemistry, nanochemistry is still far from being capable of tailoring particle structure and functionality at an atomic level. Numerous effective methodologies that can precisely tailor specific groups in organic molecules without altering the major carbon bones have been developed, but for nanoparticles, it is still extremely difficult to realize the atomic-level tailoring of specific sites in a particle without changing the structure of other parts (for example, replacing specific surface motifs and deleting one or two metal atoms). This issue severely limits nanochemists from knowing how different motifs in a nanoparticle contribute to its overall properties. We demonstrate a site-specific "surgery" on the surface motif of an atomically precise 23-gold-atom [Au23(SR)16]- nanoparticle by a two-step metal-exchange method, which leads to the "resection" of two surface gold atoms and the formation of a new 21-gold-atom nanoparticle, [Au21(SR)12(Ph2PCH2PPh2)2]+, without changing the other parts of the starting nanoparticle structure. This precise surgery of the nanocluster reveals the different reactivity of the surface motifs and the inner core: the least effect of surface motifs on optical absorption but a distinct effect on photoluminescence (that is, a 10-fold enhancement of luminescence after the tailoring). First-principles calculations further reveal the thermodynamically preferred reaction pathway for the formation of [Au21(SR)12(Ph2PCH2PPh2)2]+. This work constitutes a major step toward the development of atomically precise, versatile nanochemistry for the precise tailoring of the nanocluster structure to control its properties.

Keywords: Nanoparticle; Optical Properties; nanocluster; site-specific tailoring; structure.