Sunday, 11 March, 2007
Exploration of nanostructured channel systems with single-molecule probes
J. Kirstein, B. Platschek, C. Jung, R. Brown, T. Bein and C. Bräuchle -
Nature Materials 6, 303 (2007)
Molecular movement in confined spaces is of broad scientific and technological importance in areas ranging from molecular sieving and membrane separation to active transport through ion channels. Whereas measurements of ensemble diffusion provide information about the overall behaviour of the guest in a porous host, tracking individual molecules provides insight into both the heterogeneity and the mechanistic details of molecular diffusion as well as into the structure of the host. Here, we show how single dye molecules can be used as nanoscale probes to map out the structure of mesoporous silica channel systems prepared as thin films via cooperative self-assembly of surfactant molecules with polymerizable silicate species. The dye molecules act as beacons while they diffuse through the different structural phases of the host: the structure of the trajectories, the diffusivities and the orientation of single molecules are distinctive for molecules travelling in the lamellar and the hexagonal mesophases. These experiments reveal unprecedented details of the host structure, its domains and the accessibility as well as the connectivity of the channel system.