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Control over Structure and Properties in Nanocrystal Aerogels at the Nano‑, Micro‑, and Macroscale

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journal contribution
posted on 08.10.2020, 13:40 by Pascal Rusch, Dániel Zámbó, Nadja C. Bigall
ConspectusThe assembly of individual colloidal nanocrystals into macroscopic solvogels and aerogels introduced a new exciting type of material into the class of porous architectures. In these so-called nanocrystal gels, the structure and properties can be controlled and fine-tuned to the smallest details. Recently it was shown that by employing nanocrystal building blocks for such gel materials, the interesting nanoscopic properties can be conserved or even expanded to properties that are available neither in the nanocrystals nor in their respective bulk materials. In general, the production of these materials features the wet-chemical synthesis of stable nanocrystal colloids followed by their carefully controlled destabilization to facilitate arrangement of the nanocrystals into highly porous, interconnected networks. By isolation of the synthesis of the discrete building blocks from the assembly process, the electronic structure, optical properties, and structural morphology can be tailored by the myriad of procedures developed in colloidal nanocrystal chemistry. Furthermore, knowledge and control over the structure–property correlation in the resulting gel structures opens up numerous new ways for extended and advanced applications. Consequently, the amount of different materials converted to nanocrystal-based gel structures is rising steadily. Meanwhile the number of methods for assembly initiation is likewise increasing, offering control over the overall network structure and porosity as well as the individual nanocrystal building block connection. The resulting networks can be dried by different methods to obtain highly porous air-filled networks (aerogels) or applied in their wet form (solvogels). By now a number of different applications profiting from the unique advantages of nanocrystal-based gel materials have been realized and exploited in the areas of photocatalysis, electrocatalysis, and sensing.In this Account, we aim to summarize the efforts undertaken in the structuring of nanocrystal-based network materials on different scales, fine-tuning of the individual building blocks on the nanoscale, the network connections on the microscale, and the macroscale structure and shape of the final construct. It is exemplarily demonstrated how cation exchange reactions (at the nanoscale), postgelation modifications on the nanocrystal networks (microscale), and the structuring of the gels via printing techniques (macroscale) endow the resulting nanocrystal gel networks with novel physicochemical, mechanical, and electrocatalytic properties. The methods applied in the more traditional sol–gel chemistry targeting micro- and macroscale structuring are also reviewed, showing their future potential promoting the field of nanocrystal-based aerogels and their applications.