Influence of Ionic Strength on the Deposition of Metal-Phenolic Networks

JL Guo and JJ Richardson and QA Besford and AJ Christofferson and YL Dai and CW Ong and BL Tardy and K Liang and GH Choi and JW Cui and PJ Yoo and I Yarovsky and F Caruso, LANGMUIR, 33, 10616-10622 (2017).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.langmuir.7b02692

Metal-phenolic networks (MPNs) are a versatile class of self-assembled materials that are able to form functional thin films on various substrates with potential applications in areas including drug delivery and catalysis. Different metal ions (e.g., Fe-III, Cu-II) and phenols (e.g., tannic acid, gallic acid) have been investigated for MPN film assembly; however, a mechanistic understanding of the thermodynamics governing MPN formation remains largely unexplored. To date, MPNs have been deposited at low ionic strengths (< 5 mM), resulting in films with typical thicknesses of similar to 10 nm, and it is still unclear how a bulk complexation reaction results in homogeneous thin films when a substrate is present. Herein we explore the influence of ionic strength (0-2 M NaCl) on the conformation of MPN precursors in solution and how this determines the final thickness and morphology of MPN films. Specifically, the film thickness increases from 10 nm in 0 M NaCl to 12 nm in 0.5 M NaCl and 15 nm in 1 M NaCl, after which the films grow rougher rather than thicker. For example, the root-mean-square roughness values of the films are constant below 1 M NaCl at 1.5 nm; in contrast, the roughness is 3 nm at 1 M NaCl and increases to 5 nm at 2 M NaCl. Small-angle X-ray scattering and molecular dynamics simulations allow for comparisons to be made with chelated metals and polyelectrolyte thin films. For example, at a higher ionic strength (2 M NaCl), sodium ions shield the galloyl groups of tannic acid, allowing them to extend away from the Fe-III center and interact with other MPN complexes in solution to form thicker and rougher films. As the properties of films determine their final performance and application, the ability to tune both thickness and roughness using salts may allow for new applications of MPNs.

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