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Nanoscale. 2012 Jul 21;4(14):4054-72. doi: 10.1039/c2nr30685a. Epub 2012 May 28.

Investigating the structural evolution of thiolate protected gold clusters from first-principles.

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Department of Chemistry, Key Laboratory of Environmentally Friendly Chemistry and Applications of Ministry of Education, Xiangtan University, Hunan Province, China.


Unlike bulk materials, the physicochemical properties of nano-sized metal clusters can be strongly dependent on their atomic structure and size. Over the past two decades, major progress has been made in both the synthesis and characterization of a special class of ligated metal nanoclusters, namely, the thiolate-protected gold clusters with size less than 2 nm. Nevertheless, the determination of the precise atomic structure of thiolate-protected gold clusters is still a grand challenge to both experimentalists and theorists. The lack of atomic structures for many thiolate-protected gold clusters has hampered our in-depth understanding of their physicochemical properties and size-dependent structural evolution. Recent breakthroughs in the determination of the atomic structure of two clusters, [Au(25)(SCH(2)CH(2)Ph)(18)](q) (q = -1, 0) and Au(102)(p-MBA)(44), from X-ray crystallography have uncovered many new characteristics regarding the gold-sulfur bonding as well as the atomic packing structure in gold thiolate nanoclusters. Knowledge obtained from the atomic structures of both thiolate-protected gold clusters allows researchers to examine a more general "inherent structure rule" underlying this special class of ligated gold nanoclusters. That is, a highly stable thiolate-protected gold cluster can be viewed as a combination of a highly symmetric Au core and several protecting gold-thiolate "staple motifs", as illustrated by a general structural formula [Au](a+a')[Au(SR)(2)](b)[Au(2)(SR)(3)](c)[Au(3)(SR)(4)](d)[Au(4)(SR)(5)](e) where a, a', b, c, d and e are integers that satisfy certain constraints. In this review article, we highlight recent progress in the theoretical exploration and prediction of the atomic structures of various thiolate-protected gold clusters based on the "divide-and-protect" concept in general and the "inherent structure rule" in particular. As two demonstration examples, we show that the theoretically predicted lowest-energy structures of Au(25)(SR)(8)(-) and Au(38)(SR)(24) (-R is the alkylthiolate group) have been fully confirmed by later experiments, lending credence to the "inherent structure rule".


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