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Deciphering Molecular Self-Assembly through Electron Microscopy and Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy
preprintsubmitted on 07.12.2020, 08:33 and posted on 08.12.2020, 13:02 by Subhankar Kundu, Arkaprava Chowdhury,, Somen Nandi, Kankan Bhattacharyya, Abhijit Patra
Supramolecular self-assembly of small organic molecules has emerged as a powerful tool to construct well-defined micro- and nanoarchitecture through fine-tuning a range of intermolecular interactions. The size, shape, and optical properties of these nanostructures largely depend on the temperature and polarity of the medium, along with the specific self-assembled pattern of molecular building units. The engineering of supramolecular self-assembled nanostructures with morphology-dependent tunable emission is in high demand due to the promising scope in nanodevices and molecular machines. However, challenges are probing the evolution of molecular aggregates from a true solution and directing the self-assembly process in a pre-defined fashion. The structure of molecular aggregates in the solution can be predicted from fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS) and dynamic light scattering (DLS) analysis. On the other hand, the morphology of the aggregates can also be visualized through electron microscopy. Nevertheless, a direct correlation between emission from molecular aggregates in the aqueous dispersion and their morphology obtained through a solid-state characterization is missing. In the present study, we decipher the sequential evolution of molecular nanofibers from solution to spherical and oblong-shaped nanoparticles through the variation of solvent polarity, adjusting the hydrophobic-hydrophilic interactions. The intriguing case of molecular self-assembly is elucidated employing a newly designed π-conjugated thiophene derivative (TPAn) through a combination of steady-state absorption, emission measurements, FCS, and electron microscopy. The FCS analysis and microscopy results infer that small-sized nanofibers in the dispersion are further agglomerated, resulting in a network of nanofibers upon solvent evaporation. The evolution of organic nanofibers and subtle control over the self-assembly process demonstrated in the current investigation provides a general paradigm to correlate the size, shape, and emission properties of diverse fluorescent molecular aggregates in complex heterogeneous media, including a human cell.