Inorganic microstructured materials are ubiquitous in nature. However, their formation in artificial self-assembly systems is challenging as it involves a complex interplay of competing forces during and after assembly. For example, colloidal assembly requires fine-tuning of factors such as the size and surface charge of the particles and electrolyte strength of the solvent to enable successful self-assembly and minimize crack formation. Co-assembly of templating colloidal particles together with a sol–gel matrix precursor material helps to release stresses that accumulate during drying and solidification, as previously shown for the formation of high-quality inverse opal (IO) films out of amorphous silica. Expanding this methodology to crystalline materials would result in microscale architectures with enhanced photonic, electronic, and catalytic properties. This work describes tailoring the crystallinity of metal oxide precursors that enable the formation of highly ordered, large-area (mm2) crack-free titania, zirconia, and alumina IO films. The same bioinspired approach can be applied to other crystalline materials as well as structures beyond IOs.
Catalysis is one of the most sophisticated areas of materials research that encompasses a diverse set of materials and phenomena occurring on multiple length and time scales. Designing catalysts that can be broadly applied toward global energy and environmental challenges requires the development of universal frameworks for complex catalytic systems through rational and independent (or quasi-independent) optimization of multiple structural and compositional features. Toward addressing this goal, a modular platform is presented in which sacrificial organic colloids bearing catalytic nanoparticles on their surfaces self-assemble with matrix precursors, simultaneously structuring the resulting porous networks and fine-tuning the locations of catalyst particles. This strategy allows combinatorial variations of the material building blocks and their organization, in turn providing numerous degrees of freedom for optimizing the material’s functional properties, from the nanoscale to the macroscale. The platform enables systematic studies and rational design of efficient and robust systems for a wide range of catalytic and photocatalytic reactions, as well as their integration into industrial and other real-life environments.
A highly modular synthesis of designed catalysts with controlled bimetallic nanoparticle size and composition and a well-defined structural hierarchy is demonstrated. Exemplary catalysts—bimetallic dilute Ag-in-Au nanoparticles partially embedded in a porous SiO2 matrix (SiO2–AgxAuy)— were synthesized by the decoration of polymeric colloids with the bimetallic nanoparticles followed by assembly into a colloidal crystal backfilled with the matrix precursor and subsequent removal of the polymeric template. This work reports that these new catalyst architectures are significantly better than nanoporous dilute AgAu alloy catalysts (nanoporous Ag3Au97) while retaining a clear predictive relationship between their surface reactivity with that of single-crystal Au surfaces. This paves the way for broadening the range of new catalyst architectures required for translating the designed principles developed under controlled conditions to designed catalysts under operating conditions for highly selective coupling of alcohols to form esters. Excellent catalytic performance of the porous SiO2–AgxAuy structure for selective oxidation of both methanol and ethanol to produce esters with high conversion efficiency, selectivity, and stability was demonstrated, illustrating the ability to translate design principles developed for support-free materials to the colloid-templated structures. The synthetic methodology reported is customizable for the design of a wide range of robust catalytic systems inspired by design principles derived from model studies. Fine control over the composition, morphology, size, distribution, and availability of the supported nanoparticles was demonstrated.
Developments in the field of microfluidics have triggered technological revolutions in many disciplines, including chemical synthesis, electronics, diagnostics, single-cell analysis, micro- and nanofabrication, and pharmaceutics. In many of these areas, rapid growth is driven by the increasing synergy between fundamental materials development and new microfluidic capabilities. In this Review, we critically evaluate both how recent advances in materials fabrication have expanded the frontiers of microfluidic platforms and how the improved microfluidic capabilities are, in turn, furthering materials design. We discuss how various inorganic and organic materials enable the fabrication of systems with advanced mechanical, optical, chemical, electrical and biointerfacial properties — in particular, when these materials are combined into new hybrids and modular configurations. The increasing sophistication of microfluidic techniques has also expanded the range of resources available for the fabrication of new materials, including particles and fibres with specific functionalities, 3D (bio)printed composites and organoids. Together, these advances lead to complex, multifunctional systems, which have many interesting potential applications, especially in the biomedical and bioengineering domains. Future exploration of the interactions between materials science and microfluidics will continue to enrich the diversity of applications across engineering as well as the physical and biomedical sciences.
Controlling the microscopic wetting state of a liquid in contact with a structured surface is the basis for the design of liquid repellent as well as anti-fogging coatings by preventing or enabling a given liquid to infiltrate the surface structures. Similarly, a liquid can be confined to designated surface areas by locally controlling the wetting state, with applications ranging from liquid transport on a surface to creating tailored microenvironments for cell culture or chemical synthesis. The control of the wetting of a low-surfacetension liquid is substantially more difficult compared to water and requires surface structures with overhanging features, known as re-entrant geometries. Here, we use colloidal self-assembly and templating to create two-dimensional nanopore arrays with tailored re-entrant geometry. These pore arrays, termed inverse monolayers, are prepared by backfilling a sacrificial colloidal monolayer with a silica sol–gel precursor material. Varying the precursor concentration enables us to control the degree to which the colloids are embedded into the silica matrix. Upon calcination, nanopores with different opening angles result. The pore opening angle directly correlates with the re-entrant curvature of the surface nanostructures and can be used to control the macroscopic wetting behavior of a liquid sitting on the surface structures. We characterize the wetting of various liquids by static and dynamic contact angles and find correlation between the experimental results and theoretical predictions of the wetting state based on simple geometric considerations. We demonstrate the creation of omniphobic surface coatings that support Cassie–Baxter wetting states for liquids with low surface tensions, including octane (g ¼ 21.7 mN m1). We further use photolithography to spatially confine such low-surface-tension liquids to desired areas of the substrate with high accuracy.