Cooperative Self-Assembly of Pyridine-2,6-Diimine-Linked Macrocycles into Mechanically Robust Nanotubes

Nanotubes assembled from macrocyclic precursors offer a unique combination of low dimensionality, structural rigidity, and distinct interior and exterior microenvironments. Usually the weak stacking energies of macrocycles limit the length or strength of the resultant nanotubes. Imine-linked macrocycles were recently found to assemble into high-aspect ratio (>103), lyotropic nanotubes in the presence of excess acid. Yet these harsh conditions are incompatible with many functional groups and processing methods, and lower acid loadings instead catalyze macrocycle degradation. Here we report pyridine-2,6-diimine-linked macrocycles that assemble into high-aspect ratio nanotubes in the presence of less than 1 equiv of CF3CO2H per macrocycle. Analysis by gel permeation chromatography and fluorescence spectroscopy revealed a cooperative self-assembly mechanism. Nanofibers obtained by touch-spinning the pyridinium-based nanotubes exhibit Young’s moduli of 1.48 GPa, which exceeds that of many synthetic polymers and biological filaments. These findings will enable the design of structurally diverse nanotubes from synthetically accessible macrocycles.