Hierarchical self-assembly and controlled disassembly of a cavitand-based host–guest supramolecular polymer†
There is considerable interest in dynamic materials featuring modular components with nano-scale dimensions and controlled responsiveness to external stimuli. Supramolecular polymers are a class of materials that fulfil all these conditions well. Here, we present a family of host–guest supramolecular polymers that combine the outstanding complexing properties of tetraphosphonate cavitands toward N-methylpyridinium guests with molecular switching. The designed monomer is a cavitand featuring four inward facing PO groups at the upper rim and a single N-methylpyridinium unit at the lower rim, forming instantaneously a polymeric species in solution, thanks to the high complexation constants measured for these host–guest interactions. This system has been analyzed by NMR spectroscopy and electrochemical techniques. In order to interpret the results of diffusion-sensitive experiments, we took advantage of the X-ray crystal structure obtained for the polymeric species and developed an original treatment for the PGSE data by non-linear fitting. The analysis of the experimental data identified an isodesmic polymerization model at a monomer concentration below 20 mM, driven by intrachain host–guest interactions, and an additional level of tetrameric bundle aggregation above 20 mM, due to interchain dipolar and quadrupolar interactions. Two orthogonal disassembly procedures have been implemented: electrochemical reduction for the linear chains and solvent-driven dissolution for the bundles.