Silica materials attract an increasing amount of interest in (fundamental) research, and find applications in, for example, sensing, catalysis, and drug delivery. As the properties of these (nano)materials not only depend on their chemistry but also their size, shape, and surface area, the controllable synthesis of silica is essential for tailoring the materials to specific applications. Advantageously, bioinspired routes for silica production are environmentally friendly and straightforward since the formation process is spontaneous and proceeds under mild conditions. These strategies mostly employ amine-bearing phosphorylated (bio)polymers. In this work, we expand this principle to supramolecular polymers based on the water-soluble cationic cyanine dye Pinacyanol acetate. Upon assembly in water, these dye molecules form large, polyaminated, supramolecular fibers. The surfaces of these fibers can be used as a scaffold for the condensation of silicic acid. Control over the ionic strength, dye concentration, and silicic acid saturation yielded silica fibers with a diameter of 25 nm and a single, 4 nm pore. Unexpectedly, other unusual superstructures, namely, nummulites and spherulites, are also observed depending on the ionic strength and dye concentration. Transmission and scanning electron microscopy (TEM and SEM) showed that these superstructures are formed by aligned silica fibers. Close examination of the dye scaffold prior silicification using small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), and UV/Vis spectroscopy revealed minor influence of the ionic strength and dye concentration on the morphology of the supramolecular scaffold. Total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) during silicification unraveled that if the reaction is kept under static conditions, only silica fibers are obtained. Experiments performed on the dye scaffold and silica superstructures evidenced that the marked structural diversity originates from the arrangement of silica/dye fibers. Under these mild conditions, external force fields can profoundly influence the morphology of the produced silica.
- materials science
- mesoporous materials