To gel or not to gel: correlating molecular gelation with solvent parameters†
Rational design of small molecular gelators is an elusive and herculean task, despite the rapidly growing body of literature devoted to such gels over the past decade. The process of self-assembly, in molecular gels, is intricate and must balance parameters influencing solubility and those contrasting forces that govern epitaxial growth into axially symmetric elongated aggregates. Although the gelator–gelator interactions are of paramount importance in understanding gelation, the solvent–gelator specific (i.e., H-bonding) and nonspecific (dipole–dipole, dipole-induced and instantaneous dipole induced forces) intermolecular interactions are equally important. Solvent properties mediate the self-assembly of molecular gelators into their self-assembled fibrillar networks. Herein, solubility parameters of solvents, ranging from partition coefficients (log P), to Henry's law constants (HLC), to solvatochromic parameters (ET(30)), and Kamlet–Taft parameters (β, α and π), and to Hansen solubility parameters (δp, δd, δh), are correlated with the gelation ability of numerous classes of molecular gelators. Advanced solvent clustering techniques have led to the development of a priori tools that can identify the solvents that will be gelled and not gelled by molecular gelators. These tools will greatly aid in the development of novel gelators without solely relying on serendipitous discoveries. These tools illustrate that the quest for the universal gelator should be left in the hands of Don Quixote and as researchers we must focus on identifying gelators capable of gelling classes of solvents as there is likely no one gelator capable of gelling all solvents.