Self-Assembly of Metallo-Supramolecules under Kinetic or Thermodynamic Control: Characterization of Positional Isomers Using Scanning Tunneling Spectroscopy

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Coordination-driven self-assembly has been extensively employed to construct a variety of discrete structures as a bottom-up strategy. However, mechanistic understanding regarding whether self-assembly is under kinetic or thermodynamic control is less explored. To date, such mechanistic investigation has been limited to distinct, assembled structures. It still remains a formidable challenge to study the kinetic and thermodynamic behavior of self-assembly systems with multiple assembled isomers due to the lack of characterization methods. Herein, we use a stepwise strategy which combined self-recognition and self-assembly processes to construct giant metallo-supramolecules with 8 positional isomers in solution. With the help of ultrahigh-vacuum, low-temperature scanning tunneling microscopy and scanning tunneling spectroscopy, we were able to unambiguously differentiate 14 isomers on the substrate which correspond to 8 isomers in solution. Through measurement of 162 structures, the experimental probability of each isomer was obtained and compared with the theoretical probability. Such a comparison along with density functional theory (DFT) calculation suggested that although both kinetic and thermodynamic control existed in this self-assembly, the increased experimental probabilities of isomers compared to theoretical probabilities should be attributed to thermodynamic control.

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Journal of the American Chemical Society, v. 142, issue 21, p. 9809-9817