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Macroscopic materials assembled from nanoparticle superlattices


Nanoparticle assembly has been proposed as an ideal means to program the hierarchical organization of a material by using a selection of nanoscale components to build the entire material from the bottom up. Multiscale structural control is highly desirable because chemical composition, nanoscale ordering, microstructure and macroscopic form all affect physical properties1,2. However, the chemical interactions that typically dictate nanoparticle ordering3,4,5 do not inherently provide any means to manipulate structure at larger length scales6,7,8,9. Nanoparticle-based materials development therefore requires processing strategies to tailor micro- and macrostructure without sacrificing their self-assembled nanoscale arrangements. Here we demonstrate methods to rapidly assemble gram-scale quantities of faceted nanoparticle superlattice crystallites that can be further shaped into macroscopic objects in a manner analogous to the sintering of bulk solids. The key advance of this method is that the chemical interactions that govern nanoparticle assembly remain active during the subsequent processing steps, which enables the local nanoscale ordering of the particles to be preserved as the macroscopic materials are formed. The nano- and microstructure of the bulk solids can be tuned as a function of the size, chemical makeup and crystallographic symmetry of the superlattice crystallites, and the micro- and macrostructures can be controlled via subsequent processing steps. This work therefore provides a versatile method to simultaneously control structural organization across the molecular to macroscopic length scales.

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Fig. 1: NCTs can be processed into bulk solids with simultaneous structural control across seven orders of magnitude on the length scale.
Fig. 2: The formation of solid-state NCT superlattice polyhedra of controlled sizes.
Fig. 3: Control over microstructure in sintered NCT solids.
Fig. 4: Independent control of the NCT solid composition, nanoscale ordering and microstructure.

Data availability

All data are available in the main Article and Supplementary Information, or from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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This work was primarily supported by an NSF CAREER grant, award number CHE-1653289; supported in part by the US Army Research Office under grant W911NF-18-1-0197 and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research FA9550-17-1-0288; and made use of the MRSEC Shared Experimental Facilities at MIT, supported by the NSF under award DMR 14-19807. P.J.S., P.A.G. and L.Z.Z. acknowledge support from the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program under grant NSF 1122374.

Author information




P.J.S. synthesized the materials, developed the processing methods, collected characterization data, designed the experiments and wrote the manuscript. P.A.G. developed characterization methods, collected microscopy data, designed the experiments and wrote the manuscript. L.Z.Z. developed the model and wrote the manuscript. M.S.L. collected characterization data and wrote the manuscript. R.J.M. designed the experiments and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert J. Macfarlane.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature thanks the anonymous reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains additional data to support the conclusions of the manuscript including: small angle x-ray scattering data of the crystalline materials, scanning electron microscopy, and a model describing the crystal growth process. It contains Supplementary Figs. 1 to 51, Supplementary Tables 1 to 3, and Equations S1 to S19.

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Santos, P.J., Gabrys, P.A., Zornberg, L.Z. et al. Macroscopic materials assembled from nanoparticle superlattices. Nature 591, 586–591 (2021).

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