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Molecular-Scale Ligand Effects in Small Gold-Thiolate Nanoclusters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15430-15436
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number45
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2018
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


Because of the small size and large surface area of thiolate-protected Au nanoclusters (NCs), the protecting ligands are expected to play a substantial role in modulating the structure and properties, particularly in the solution phase. However, little is known on how thiolate ligands explicitly modulate the structural properties of the NCs at atomic level, even though this information is critical for predicting the performance of Au NCs in application settings including as a catalyst interacting with small molecules and as a sensor interacting with biomolecular systems. Here, we report a combined experimental and theoretical study, using synchrotron X-ray spectroscopy and quantum mechanics/molecular mechanics simulations, that investigates how the protecting ligands impact the structure and properties of small Au18(SR)14 NCs. Two representative ligand types, smaller aliphatic cyclohexanethiolate and larger hydrophilic glutathione, are selected, and their structures are followed experimentally in both solid and solution phases. It was found that cyclohexanethiolate ligands are significantly perturbed by toluene solvent molecules, resulting in structural changes that cause disorder on the surface of Au18(SR)14 NCs. In particular, large surface cavities in the ligand shell are created by interactions between toluene and cyclohexanethiolate. The appearance of these small molecule-accessible sites on the NC surface demonstrates the ability of Au NCs to act as a catalyst for organic phase reactions. In contrast, glutathione ligands encapsulate the Au NC core via intermolecular interactions, minimizing structural changes caused by interactions with water molecules. The much better protection from glutathione ligands imparts a rigidified surface and ligand structure, making the NCs desirable for biomedical applications due to the high stability and also offering a structural-based explanation for the enhanced photoluminescence often reported for glutathione-protected Au NCs.

Publication forum classification

Field of science, Statistics Finland