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Nat Mater. 2012 Oct;11(10):877-81. doi: 10.1038/nmat3408. Epub 2012 Sep 16.

Heterogeneous nucleation of organic crystals mediated by single-molecule templates.

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Department of Chemistry, The University of Tokyo, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0033, Japan.


Fundamental understanding of how crystals of organic molecules nucleate on a surface remains limited because of the difficulty of probing rare events at the molecular scale. Here we show that single-molecule templates on the surface of carbon nanohorns can nucleate the crystallization of two organic compounds from a supersaturated solution by mediating the formation of disordered and mobile molecular nanoclusters on the templates. Single-molecule real-time transmission electron microscopy indicates that each nanocluster consists of a maximum of approximately 15 molecules, that there are fewer nanoclusters than crystals in solution, and that in the absence of templates physisorption, but not crystal formation, occurs. Our findings suggest that template-induced heterogeneous nucleation mechanistically resembles two-step homogeneous nucleation.

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