Self-assembling gold nanorods show huge potential

Illustration of the self-assembling of gold nanorod verticle arrays on patterned substrates. 

July 2013

Nanostructures fabricated with metal nanoparticles hold great potential for applications in biosensing, optical analysis, computing and solar energy conversion. One approach to creating nanoparticle-based nanostructures is to program the spontaneous self-assembly of nanoparticles into the desired architecture.

Advanced self-assembled structures can be achieved with anisotropic nanoparticles like gold nanorods. This challenging self-assembly requires not only the control over the nanoparticles position but also their orientation at the nanoscale. MCN Technology Fellow, Associate Professor Udo Bach and his team have developed a self-assembly strategy to fabricate vertical arrays of gold nanorods on patterned substrates. This illustrates the possibility to program the self-assembly of anisotropic gold nanoparticles into complex structures with a precise orientation and placement on surfaces.

The gold nanorods were synthesised based on a well-known chemical protocol while the patterned substrates fabricated through cleanroom lithographic processes. The surface treatment and geometry of the patterned substrate are designed to guide the self-assembly of gold nanorods into vertical arrays.

The experiment consists of immersing a patterned substrate into a solution of gold nanorods and letting it dry with a controlled concentration and temperature. During the solvent evaporation, the nanoparticles spontaneously self-assemble onto predefined areas into vertical arrays over the entire substrate.

The nanostructures were then characterised by Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) in collaboration with the Australian Synchrotron. The help of Dr. Stephen Mudie allowed the team to gather important information about the self-assembly method such as the nature and the range of nanoparticle ordering, and the average interparticle distance.

The most exciting breakthrough was the ability to self-assemble these vertical arrays of gold nanorods with an unprecedented control over their placement on a surface. These results show an approach to address the issue of advanced nanostructure integration in functional devices, reducing the gap between nanomaterials and nanotechnology.

The group have demonstrated that the nanostructures can be used as a chemical sensor. It was up to 36 times more sensitive than a commercial substrate. One of the first benefits would be to design and optimise these nanostructures to fabricate ultrasensative sensors for chemical and biological molecules.

Beside the development of ultrasensitive biosensors, vertical arrays of gold nanorods could be used in optics. They can guide the light at the nanoscale in a structure called a waveguide. These gold nanorod arrays have been shown in the literature to be excellent waveguides. The idea would be to make an ideal substrate to self-assemble these gold nanorod arrays and to test their optical properties as waveguides.

You can read more about this project in Self-Assembly of Vertically Aligned Gold Nanorod Arrays on Patterned Substrates, published in Angewandte Chemie.