Small is different: energetic, structural, thermal, and mechanical properties of passivated nanocluster assemblies
We explore, with the use of extensive molecular dynamics simulations, several principal issues pertaining to the energetics of formation of superlattices made through the assembly of passivated nanoclusters, the interactions that underlie the cohesion of such superlattices, and the unique mechanical, thermal and structural properties that they exhibit. Our investigations focus on assemblies made of crystalline gold nanoclusters of variable sizes, passivated by monolayers of alkylthiol molecules. An analytic optimal packing model that correlates in a unified manner several structural characteristics of three-dimensional superlattice assemblies is developed. The model successfully organizes and systematizes a large amount of experimental and simulation data, and it predicts the phase-boundary between different superlattice structural motifs that evolve as a function of the ratio between the chain-length of the extended passivating molecules and the radius of the underlying gold nanocluster. The entropic contribution to the formation free energy of the superlattice assembly is found to be large and of similar magnitude as the potential energy component of the free energy. The major contribution to the cohesive potential energy of the superlattice is shown to originate from van der Waals interactions between molecules that passivate neighboring nanoclusters. The unique mechanical, thermal, thermomechanical, and thermostructural properties of passivated nanocluster assemblies, are discussed.