Scientists make giant molecular cages for energy conversion and drug delivery

June 29, 2017, Trinity College Dublin
A diagram showing the molecular cage structure. Credit: Professor Wolfgang Schmitt, Trinity College Dublin

Scientists from Trinity College Dublin and AMBER, the Science Foundation Ireland-funded materials science research centre hosted in Trinity College Dublin, have created 'molecular cages' that can maximise the efficiency of converting molecules in chemical reactions, and that may in future also be used as sensors and drug-delivery agents. The cages can be packed with different molecules, many of which have a specific task or functionality. Incredibly, a teaspoon of powder containing these cages provides a greater internal surface area to boost reactivity and storage capacity than would be provided by an entire football field (4000 m2/g).

This enormous intrinsic relative to the weight of the structure in combination with the solubility offers great promise for energy conversion, while the structure blueprint (hollow, with sub-cages) allows different molecules to be discretely contained within. This latter feature is key in increasing the potential uses for these 'metal-organic-organic polyhedra' (MOP), because it means materials can be packed so as to react only when specific conditions present themselves.

One such example is in bio-sensing and drug-delivery, with a biological cue required to kick-start a chemical reaction. For example, a drug could be encapsulated in one of these MOP in the knowledge that it would only be released at the specific target site, where a specific biological molecule would trigger its release.

The researchers behind the breakthrough, which has just been published in leading international journal Nature Communications, also hope to develop light-active porous, metal-organic materials for use in green energy. The dream would be to create a molecule that could simply use light to convert energy - essentially replicating the way plants produce energy via photosynthesis.

This video shows the basic 3-D structure of the molecular cage. Credit: Professor Wolfgang Schmitt, Trinity College Dublin.

Professor in Chemistry at Trinity College Dublin, and Investigator in AMBER, Wolfgang Schmitt, led the research. He said: "We have essentially created a molecular 'flask' or better 'sponge' that can hold different molecules until a specific set of conditions spark them into life."

"Hollow cage-type molecular structures have attracted a lot of scientific attention because of these features, but as the number of potential applications has grown and the target systems and environments become more complex, progress has been hampered by the lack of structures with sufficiently large inner cavities and surface areas."

"The MOP we have just created is among the largest ever made, comprising a number of internal sub-cages, providing numerous different binding sites. The nano-sized compartments can potentially change the reactivity and properties of molecules that are encapsulated within the confined inner spaces and, as such, these cages can be used to promote distinct . Thus, these have the potential to mimic biological enzymes."

The journal article describes the of the new cage molecule, which is composed of 36 copper atoms and is made up of 96 individual components.

Explore further: New perspectives to the design of molecular cages

More information: Kevin Byrne et al, Ultra-large supramolecular coordination cages composed of endohedral Archimedean and Platonic bodies, Nature Communications (2017). DOI: 10.1038/ncomms15268

Related Stories

New perspectives to the design of molecular cages

May 26, 2014

Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä report a new method of building molecular cages. The method involves the exploitation of intermolecular steric effects to control the outcome of a self-assembly reaction.

New nanosensors for the detection of TNT

November 9, 2016

A new type of sensor has the potential to replace sniffer dogs when it comes to detecting explosives such as TNT. This week, researchers from a number of institutions including TU Delft are publishing an article about this ...

Chemists create adaptable metallic-cage gels

November 17, 2015

MIT chemists have created a new material that combines the flexibility of polymer gels with the rigid structure provided by metal-based clusters. The new gels could be well-suited for a range of possible functions, including ...

Ultra-fast, ultra-sensitive PtSe2 gas sensors

January 13, 2017

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland have shown that PtSe2, a little-studied transition metal dichalcogenide has potential for a variety of uses. In particular, PtSe2 is an excellent high performance gas sensor, ...

Recommended for you

Galactic center visualization delivers star power

March 21, 2019

Want to take a trip to the center of the Milky Way? Check out a new immersive, ultra-high-definition visualization. This 360-movie offers an unparalleled opportunity to look around the center of the galaxy, from the vantage ...

Physicists reveal why matter dominates universe

March 21, 2019

Physicists in the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University have confirmed that matter and antimatter decay differently for elementary particles containing charmed quarks.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.