Synthesis of aerogels: from molecular routes to 3-dimensional nanoparticle assembly
Colloidal nanocrystals are extensively used as building blocks in nanoscience, and amazing results have been achieved in assembling them into ordered, close-packed structures. But in spite of great efforts, the size of these structures is typically restricted to a few micrometers, and it is very hard to extend them into the macroscopic world. In comparison, aerogels are macroscopic materials, highly porous, disordered, ultralight and with immense surface areas. With these distinctive characteristics, they are entirely contrary to common nanoparticle assemblies such as superlattices or nanocrystal solids, and therefore cover a different range of applications. While aerogels are traditionally synthesized by molecular routes based on aqueous sol–gel chemistry, in the last few years the gelation of nanoparticle dispersions became a viable alternative to improve the crystallinity and to widen the structural, morphological and compositional complexity of aerogels. In this Review, the different approaches to inorganic non-siliceous and non-carbon aerogels are addressed. We start our discussion with wet chemical routes involving molecular precursors, followed by processing methods using nanoparticles as building blocks. A unique feature of many of these routes is the fact that a macroscopic, often monolithic body is produced by pure self-assembly of nanosized colloids without the need for any templates.
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