Integration of molecular machines into supramolecular materials: actuation between equilibrium polymers and crystal-like gels
In this article, the dynamic structure of complex supramolecular polymers composed of bistable [c2]daisy chain rotaxanes as molecular machines that are linked by ureidopyrimidinones (Upy) as recognition moieties was studied. pH actuation of the integrated mechanically active rotaxanes controls the contraction/extension of the polymer chains as well as their physical reticulation. Small-angle neutron and X-ray scattering were used to study in-depth the nanostructure of the contracted and extended polymer aggregates in toluene solution. The supramolecular polymers comprising contracted nanomachines were found to be equilibrium polymers with a mass that is concentration dependent in dilute and semidilute regimes. Surprisingly, the extended polymers form a gel network with a crystal-like internal structure that is independent of concentration and reminiscent of a pearl-necklace network.