Self-assembly of small molecules at hydrophobic interfaces using group effect†
Although common in nature, the self-assembly of small molecules at sold–liquid interfaces is difficult to control in artificial systems. The high mobility of dissolved small molecules limits their residence at the interface, typically restricting the self-assembly to systems under confinement or with mobile tethers between the molecules and the surface. Small hydrogen-bonding molecules can overcome these issues by exploiting group-effect stabilization to achieve non-tethered self-assembly at hydrophobic interfaces. Significantly, the weak molecular interactions with the solid makes it possible to influence the interfacial hydrogen bond network, potentially creating a wide variety of supramolecular structures. Here we investigate the nanoscale details of water and alcohols mixtures self-assembling at the interface with graphite through group-effect. We explore the interplay between inter-molecular and surface interactions by adding small amounts of foreign molecules able to interfere with the hydrogen bond network and systematically varying the length of the alcohol hydrocarbon chain. The resulting supramolecular structures forming at room temperature are then examined using atomic force microscopy with insights from computer simulations. We show that the group-based self-assembly approach investigated here is general and can be reproduced on other substrates such as molybdenum disulphide and graphene oxide, potentially making it relevant for a wide variety of systems.