Insight into the Self-Assembly of Water-Soluble Perylene Bisimide Derivatives Through a Combined Computational and Experimental Approach

We use a combination of computational and experimental techniques to study the self-assembly and gelation of water-soluble perylene bisimides derivatised at the imide position with an amino acid. Specifically, we study the likely structure of self-assembled aggregates of the alanine-functionalised perylene bisimide (PBI-A) and the thermodynamics of their formation using density functional theory and predict the UV-vis spectra of such aggregates using time-dependent density functional theory. We compare these predictions to experiments in which we study the evolution of the UV-Vis and NMR spectra and rheology of alkaline PBI-A solutions when gradually decreasing the pH. Based on the combined computational and experimental results, we show that PBI-A self-assembles at all pH values but that aggregates grow in size upon protonation. Gelation is driven not by aggregate growth but reduction of the aggregation surface-charge and a decrease in the colloidal stability of the aggregation with respect to agglomeration.