Silver cluster-assembled materials (SCAMs) are emerging light-emitting materials with molecular designability and unique properties. However, due to their dissimilar structural architecture in different solvents, their widespread application remains limited. Now, researchers from Tokyo University of Science in Japan have developed two new SCAMs that exhibit excellent fluorescence and high sensitivity to Fe3+ ions in aqueous solutions, indicating their potential for environmental monitoring and assessment.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in using silver nanoclusters (Ag NCs), nanoscale silver particles composed of tens to hundreds of atoms, across various fields like material science, chemistry, and biology. Ag NCs typically have sizes ranging from 1–3 nm. Scientists have made significant progress in creating and manipulating Ag NCs, leading to the development of silver cluster-assembled materials (SCAMs). SCAMs are light-emitting materials made up of many interconnected Ag NCs, joined together by special organic linker molecules called “ligands.” What is special about them is their molecular-level structural designability and unique photophysical properties. However, their widespread use has been limited owing to their dissimilar structural architecture when immersed in different solvents.

To address this problem, a team of researchers from Tokyo University of Science (TUS), led by Professor Yuichi Negishi and including Assistant Professor Saikat Das, recently developed two new (4.6)-connected three-dimensional luminescent SCAMs comprising an Ag12 cluster core connected by quadridentate pyridine linkers—[Ag12(StBu)6(CF3COO)6(TPEPE)6]n, denoted as TUS 1 and [Ag12(StBu)6(CF3COO)6(TPVPE)6]n, denoted as TUS 2. “We have successfully developed two silver –cluster-connected architectures with a new linkage structure, which can be applied to environmental monitoring and assessment,” explains Prof. Negishi. This study was published in the journal Nanoscale on 26 June 2023. 

The researchers synthesized the SCAMs using the same facile reaction method with the only difference being the linker molecules. They combined [AgStBu]n and CF3COOAg in a solution of acetonitrile and ethanol. The linker molecules TPEPE = 1,1,2,2-tetrakis(4-(pyridin-4-ylethynyl)phenyl)ethene and TPVPE = 1,1,2,2-tetrakis(4-((E)-2-(pyridin-4yl)vinyl)phenyl)ethene were dissolved in separate chemicals, namely tetrahydrofuran and dichloromethane, respectively. The metal solution was then added to the linker molecule solution and left to crystallize in the dark. After one day, yellow crystals formed near the junction of the two solutions, signifying the creation of the SCAMs.

The team conducted various tests to examine the structure of the SCAMs. They found that TUS 1 had a rod-shaped structure, while TUS 2 had a block-shaped structure. They also tested the chemical stability of the materials by immersing them in different solvents, and found that their crystal structure remained unchanged, highlighting their exceptional stability. Additionally, due to their exceptional fluorescence properties with a quantum yield of up to 9.7% and stability in water, the team investigated the potential of SCAMs for detecting metal ions in aqueous solutions. 

To their delight, both SCAMs were highly sensitive to Fe3+ ions, which effectively quenched their fluorescence at room temperature, indicating the presence of Fe3+ ions.  The detection limits of Fe3+ ions were 0.05 and 0.86 nM L–1 for TUS 1 and TUS 2, respectively, comparable to the standard values. Furthermore, both SCAMs were highly selective towards Fe3+ and were not affected by other common metal ions. 

These results suggest a potential application of SCAMs in environmental monitoring, particularly in detecting Fe3+ ions in water. “The ability to link silver clusters via various linkage modes can enable a bottom-up fabrication of materials with various physicochemical properties. Further developments nanotechnology can thus allow us to fabricate materials and devices on a smaller scale, which is expected to lead to higher functionalities in materials and devices,” speculates Prof. Negishi. 


Title of original paper: Synthesis and luminescence properties of two silver cluster-assembled materials for selective Fe3+ sensing

Journal: Nanoscale


About The Tokyo University of Science

Tokyo University of Science (TUS) is a well-known and respected university, and the largest science-specialized private research university in Japan, with four campuses in central Tokyo and its suburbs and in Hokkaido. Established in 1881, the university has continually contributed to Japan's development in science through inculcating the love for science in researchers, technicians, and educators. 

With a mission of “Creating science and technology for the harmonious development of nature, human beings, and society,” TUS has undertaken a wide range of research from basic to applied science. TUS has embraced a multidisciplinary approach to research and undertaken intensive study in some of today's most vital fields. TUS is a meritocracy where the best in science is recognized and nurtured. It is the only private university in Japan that has produced a Nobel Prize winner and the only private university in Asia to produce Nobel Prize winners within the natural sciences field. 

About Professor Yuichi Negishi from Tokyo University of Science

Yuichi Negishi is a Professor in the Department of Applied Chemistry at Tokyo University of Science, Japan with over 200 publications to his credit. His research expertise includes physical chemistry, cluster chemistry, and nanomaterial chemistry. His notable achievements include The Chemical Society of Japan Award for Young Chemists (Japan Chemical Society, 2008), the Japan Society for Molecular Science Award for Young Scientists (Japan Society for Molecular Science, 2012), Yagami Prize (Keio University, 2017), Distinguished Award 2018 for Novel Materials and Their Synthesis (IUPAC etc., 2018), International Investigator Awards of the Japan Society for Molecular Science (Japan Society for Molecular Science, 2020), The Chemical Society of Japan Award for Creative Work (Japan Chemical Society, 2021), and Mukai Prize (Tokyo Ohka Foundation for The Promotion of Science and Technology, 2023).