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Title: Cucurbit[n]uril-engineered nano-constructs for molecular sensing
Author: Ren, Xiaohe
ISNI:       0000 0004 7652 9867
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) spectroscopy is a powerful analytical technique for ultrasensitive detection of chemicals and biomolecules. As the high sensitivity of SERS requires analytes to be in close contact with a plasmonic substrate, the detectionof analyte molecules with low chemical affinity towards the substrate is thus limited. Cucurbit[n]uril (CB[n]) exhibits strong and selective encapsulation of various guest molecules into its barrel-shaped cavity. In addition, it can function as a precise rigid spacer between metallic nanoparticles (NPs). The larger homologue CB[8] can simultaneously sequester two guest molecules to form ternary complexes, allowing for tailoring of the chemical environment of its cavity to trap specific analytes. CB[n] aggregated metallic NPs provide a powerful platform for the detection of a wide variety of molecules. However, the colloidal instability of this system requires the measurement to be finished within 60 min after the preparation of the substrate. In addition, in situ measurements may involve environments that affect such self-assembly processes. For example, the possible displacement of analytes in the nanogap by non-analyte moieties can give rise to fluctuating backgrounds. Therefore, a SERS substrate that can provide the same levels of detection and functionality but eliminates the need for aggregation is of great demand. This thesis mainly focuses on the preparation and characterisation of CB[n]-engineered nanostructures as SERS substrates with great colloidal stability, high SERS enhancements and sensitivities. Other applications of the prepared nanostructures such as peptide separation and high-performance catalysis are also discussed. In the first chapter, the historical development and the remaining challenges in the field of SERS are discussed. Three types of the most commonly used SERS substrates are introduced, followed by the introduction of rationally designed nanoplatforms for molecules with low chemical affinity towards metallic surfaces. In addition, CB[n] host guest complexation, examples of CB[n]-engineered nanostructures and the application of these nanostructures in SERS sensing are also discussed. The second chapter demonstrates the preparation of surface-bound CB[8] catenanes on silica NPs, where CB[8] is employed as a tethered supramolecular "receptor" to selectively capture target guest molecules. More specifically, CB[8] is threaded onto a methyl viologen (MV2+) axle and immobilised onto silica NPs with a surface density up to 0.56 nm$^{−2}$. Its use as an efficient and recyclable nanoplatform for peptide separation is demonstrated. The peptides captured by the catenanes can be released by reversible single-electron reduction of MV$^{2+}$. The entire process demonstrates high recoverability. Continued in the third chapter, a highly stable free-standing molecular sensor that exploits a catenane-engineered nanostructure is described. CB[8] is tethered onto spiky γ-Fe2O3@Au NPs in a similar approach, to collect target analytes from aqueous media. These target analytes can be detected with high sensitivities, on account of the high SERS enhancement (on the order of 10$^{8}$) of the spiky NPs. This CB[8] catenane-based molecular sensor provides a powerful SERS substrate that shows great promise in the detection of versatile chemicals, biomolecules, controlled substances and auxiliary diagnostics of various diseases. The fourth chapter introduces a facile preparation of monodispersed γ-Fe2O3@Au magnetic nanoraspberry NPs using a one-pot seeded growth method. The obtained nanoraspberry NPs show excellent colloidal stability and high SERS enhancement factors (on the order of 10$^{10}$). By immobilising a dense layer of CB[n]s onto the surface of nanoraspberry NPs, a new type of CB/Au NP SERS substrate is obtained. CB[n]s are located perpendicularly to the NP surface and their cavity maintain the capability to sequester guest molecules from aqueous media. More versatile molecules (both electron rich and electron deficient molecules) can thus be detected with high sensitivities. We envisage that this nanoraspberry-based molecular sensor will provide a powerful platform for SERS detection in various fields, such as chemical and biomolecule analysis, illegal drug detectionand pre-clinical/clinical diagnosis. The fifth chapter focuses on the preparation of CB[7]-based catalytic microreactors, where metallic NPs are immobilised onto microchannels via supramolecular interaction of methyl viologen@CB[7]. This microreactor exhibits remarkable catalytic activity on account of the high surface area to volume ratio of the microchannels and metallic NPs. Superior to most conventional heterogeneous catalytic reactions, separation post reaction and complicated recycling steps of the catalysts are not required. Moreover, CB[7] can complex a variety of metallic NPs onto its portal (e.g. gold, silver, palladium, quantum dot), providing a multifunctional in situ catalysis platform. In the end, a concluding chapter summarises the presented work, also giving a brief outlook of the potential future work.
Supervisor: A. Scherman, Oren Sponsor: Chinese Scholarship Council ; University of Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: SERS sensing ; supramolecular chemistry ; functionalised nanostructures