Nanoparticle self-assembly plays a key role in formation of superlattices, which exhibit remarkable physical and chemical properties. However, controlling assembly remains a challenge partly due to a lack of understanding of the assembly dynamics and the difficulty in linking interfacial solution properties to interparticle forces. Using liquid-cell transmission electron microscopy, self-assembly of gold nanoparticles (NPs) into superlattices in mixtures of water and ionic liquid (IL) was visualized, revealing a dual role of the IL in the assembly process. At intermediate concentrations, the IL acts as a surfactant stabilizing the particles at a well-defined equilibrium separation corresponding to the length of hydrogen bonded IL cations adsorbed onto neighboring NPs. Analysis of the interparticle forces reveals attractive long-range interactions of a van der Waals nature. At separations of 1-3 nm, interactions are dominated by attractive ion correlation and repulsive hydration forces giving rise to an energy minimum at 1.5 nm separation. The superlattice is further stabilized by hydrogen bonding, which shifts the equilibrium interparticle distance to 1.1 nm. In contrast, at higher concentrations, IL accumulates and forms a structured network in the gap between nanoparticles, where it acts as a solvent that eliminates the repulsive barrier and thus promotes particle coalescence. This solvent-surfactant duality of IL opens new opportunities for their use in directing particle assembly.
Revised: November 17, 2020 |
Published: November 5, 2020