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Replacing organic solvents with water

NSF Award:

Studies of Deep Cavity Cavitands  (Tulane University)

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Next-generation catalysis (a technique used to control chemical processes) will depend on nanoscale molecular containers. To form, these containers assemble in water and can seize and control guest molecules. They also adapt their form to fit within nanoenvironments. This latter function is essential for developing water-based nanoreactors for new and efficient chemical transformation.

Bruce Gibb's group at Tulane University develops strategies to create these assemblies. In one design, a bowl-shaped, host molecule responds to the nature of guest molecules also in solution. Depending on the guest, two, four or six molecules can assemble to define exceedingly large, dry nanoenvironments. In related work, the group investigated the preferred forms that molecules adopt when contained within such nanoenvironments.

Chemistry in water paired with better control of the molecules themselves could open up a new realm of chemistry. In addition, improved reaction efficiency could lead to new methods for pharmaceutical and industrial chemical production as well as economic and environmental advantages. Because the vast majority of chemical processes in industry and academic research rely on organic solvents, replacing those solvents with water may lower capital and disposal costs and reduce the need for waste incineration. 

Images (1 of )

  • nanoscale containers form when bowl-shaped molecules assemble around guest molecules depending on their size and number
  • two bowl-shaped host molecules assemble around a guest molecule forcing it to adopt a specific form
Host molecules assemble around guests to form nanoscale containers.
Bruce Gibb, Tulane University
Two host molecules assemble around a guest forcing it to adopt a highly specific form.
Bruce Gibb, Tulane University

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