Entropy Can Bundle Nanowires in Good Solvents

HY Gao and S Bettscheider and T Kraus and MH Muser, NANO LETTERS, 19, 6993-6999 (2019).

DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.9b02379

Surfaces with surface-bound ligand molecules generally attract each other when immersed in poor solvents but repel each other in good solvents. While this common wisdom holds, for example, for oleylamine- ligated ultrathin nanowires in the poor solvent ethanol, the same nanowires were recently observed experimentally to bundle even when immersed in the good solvent n-hexane. To elucidate the respective binding mechanisms, we simulate both systems using molecular dynamics. In the case of ethanol, the solvent is completely depleted at the interface between two ligand shells so that their binding occurs, as expected, via direct interactions between ligands. In the case of n-hexane, ligands attached to different nanowires do not touch. The binding occurs because solvent molecules penetrating the shells preferentially orient their backbone normal to the wire, whereby they lose entropy. This entropy does not have to be summoned a second time when the molecules penetrate another nanowire. For the mechanism to be effective, the ligand density appears to best be intermediate, that is, small enough to allow solvent molecules to penetrate, but not so small that ligands do not possess a clear preferred orientation at the interface to the solvent. At the same time, solvent molecules may be neither too large nor too small for similar reasons. Experiments complementing the simulations confirm the predicted trends.

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