Nanoparticle surfactants for kinetically arrested photoactive assemblies to track light-induced electron transferKamil Sokołowski, Junyang Huang, Tamás Földes, Jade A. McCune, David D. Xu, Bart de Nijs, Rohit Chikkaraddy, Sean M. Collins, Edina Rosta, Jeremy J. Baumberg & Oren A. Scherman
Nature controls the assembly of complex architectures through self-limiting processes; however, few artificial strategies to mimic these processes have been reported to date. Here we demonstrate a system comprising two types of nanocrystal (NC), where the self-limiting assembly of one NC component controls the aggregation of the other. Our strategy uses semiconducting InP/ZnS core–shell NCs (3 nm) as effective assembly modulators and functional nanoparticle surfactants in cucurbit[n]uril-triggered aggregation of AuNCs (5–60 nm), allowing the rapid formation (within seconds) of colloidally stable hybrid aggregates. The resultant assemblies efficiently harvest light within the semiconductor substructures, inducing out-of-equilibrium electron transfer processes, which can now be simultaneously monitored through the incorporated surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy–active plasmonic compartments. Spatial confinement of electron mediators (for example, methyl viologen (MV2+)) within the hybrids enables the direct observation of photogenerated radical species as well as molecular recognition in real time, providing experimental evidence for the formation of elusive σ–(MV+)2 dimeric species. This approach paves the way for widespread use of analogous hybrids for the long-term real-time tracking of interfacial charge transfer processes, such as the light-driven generation of radicals and catalysis with operando spectroscopies under irreversible conditions.