Göppert, Ann-Kathrin

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A Nanoparticle-Based Model System for the Study of Heterogeneous Nucleation Phenomena

2023, Göppert, Ann-Kathrin, Gonzalez-Rubio, Guillermo, Schnitzlein, Simon, Cölfen, Helmut

Heterogeneous nucleation processes are involved in many important phenomena in nature, including devastating human diseases caused by amyloid structures or the harmful frost formed on fruits. However, understanding them is challenging due to the difficulties of characterizing the initial stages of the process occurring at the interface between the nucleation medium and the substrate surfaces. This work implements a model system based on gold nanoparticles to investigate the effect of particle surface chemistry and substrate properties on heterogeneous nucleation processes. Using widely available techniques such as UV–vis–NIR spectroscopy and light microscopy, gold nanoparticle-based superstructure formation was studied in the presence of substrates with different hydrophilicity and electrostatic charges. The results were evaluated on grounds of classical nucleation theory (CNT) to reveal kinetic and thermodynamic contributions of the heterogeneous nucleation process. In contrast to nucleation from ions, the kinetic contributions toward nucleation turned out to be larger than the thermodynamic contributions for the nanoparticle building blocks. Electrostatic interactions between substrates and nanoparticles with opposite charges were crucial to enhancing the nucleation rates and decreasing the nucleation barrier of superstructure formation. Thereby, the described strategy is demonstrated advantageous for characterizing physicochemical aspects of heterogeneous nucleation processes in a simple and accessible manner, which could be potentially explored to study more complex nucleation phenomena.