2D Polymers: A New Class of Nanomaterials

What are 2D Polymers?

2D polymers are a novel class of nanomaterials that combine the structural features of polymers with the two-dimensional geometry of graphene and other 2D materials. These polymers consist of covalently bonded repeating units that extend in two dimensions, forming sheet-like structures with a thickness of a single molecule. The unique combination of polymer properties and 2D geometry endows 2D polymers with exceptional mechanical, electronic, and chemical characteristics, making them promising candidates for various applications.
illustration for the surfactant-monolayer-assistant interfacial synthesis method for 2D polymer synthesis
Left: Schematic illustration for the surfactant-monolayer-assistant interfacial synthesis method for 2D polymer synthesis. Right: High-resolution transmission electron microscopic image for 2D polyimide. (Images: Left: by Marc Hermann, TRICKLABOR), Right: by Dr. Haoyuan Qi, Uni Ulm)

Synthesis of 2D Polymers

The synthesis of 2D polymers presents unique challenges due to the requirement for precise control over the polymerization process in two dimensions. Several strategies have been developed to overcome these challenges:

On-Surface Synthesis

On-surface synthesis involves the polymerization of monomers directly on a substrate surface. This approach allows for the controlled growth of 2D polymers with well-defined structures and a high degree of order. The substrate acts as a template, guiding the polymerization process and restricting the growth to two dimensions. Common substrates include metal surfaces, graphene, and other 2D materials.

Interfacial Polymerization

Interfacial polymerization occurs at the interface between two immiscible liquids, such as water and an organic solvent. Monomers dissolved in each phase react at the interface, forming a thin film of 2D polymer. This method enables the synthesis of large-area 2D polymers with controllable thickness and composition. The properties of the resulting polymer can be tuned by adjusting the reaction conditions and the choice of monomers.

Topochemical Polymerization

Topochemical polymerization involves the solid-state polymerization of pre-organized monomers in a crystal lattice. The monomers are arranged in a specific orientation that favors the formation of covalent bonds in two dimensions. Upon activation by heat, light, or other stimuli, the monomers react to form a 2D polymer while maintaining the overall crystal structure. This method allows for the synthesis of highly crystalline and oriented 2D polymers.

Properties and Characterization of 2D Polymers

2D polymers exhibit a range of unique properties that arise from their two-dimensional structure and covalent bonding. These properties can be tailored by designing the monomer structure, polymerization method, and post-synthetic modifications.

Mechanical Properties

2D polymers possess exceptional mechanical strength and flexibility due to their covalent bonding network. The in-plane covalent bonds provide high resistance to deformation, while the out-of-plane flexibility allows for bending and folding without fracture. This combination of strength and flexibility makes 2D polymers promising candidates for applications such as reinforcement in composites, flexible electronics, and membranes.

Electronic Properties

The electronic properties of 2D polymers can be tuned by designing the monomer structure and the polymerization pattern. By incorporating conjugated monomers or heteroatoms, 2D polymers can exhibit semiconducting or conducting behavior. The two-dimensional geometry also enables efficient charge transport and the modulation of electronic properties through doping or external stimuli. These properties make 2D polymers attractive for applications in organic electronics, sensors, and energy storage devices.

Porosity and Adsorption

2D polymers can be designed with intrinsic porosity by incorporating specific monomer geometries or by post-synthetic modification. The presence of well-defined pores in the 2D polymer structure enables selective adsorption and separation of molecules based on size, shape, or chemical affinity. This porosity can be exploited for applications such as gas storage, catalysis, and molecular sieving.

Characterization Techniques

The characterization of 2D polymers requires a combination of advanced techniques to probe their structure, composition, and properties. Some commonly used techniques include:

Applications of 2D Polymers

The unique properties of 2D polymers make them promising candidates for a wide range of applications. Some potential applications include:

Membranes and Separation

2D polymers with controlled porosity and chemical functionality can be used as high-performance membranes for gas separation, water purification, and molecular sieving. The precise pore size and chemistry of the 2D polymer can be tailored to achieve selective permeation and adsorption of specific molecules, enabling efficient separation processes.

Energy Storage and Conversion

2D polymers can be employed as active materials in energy storage and conversion devices, such as batteries, supercapacitors, and fuel cells. The high surface area, conductivity, and chemical stability of 2D polymers make them suitable for use as electrodes, electrolytes, or separator materials. The incorporation of redox-active functional groups or the integration with other 2D materials can further enhance the energy storage and conversion performance.


2D polymers with well-defined pore structures and tailored chemical functionality can act as efficient catalysts for various chemical reactions. The high surface area and accessible active sites of 2D polymers enable enhanced catalytic activity and selectivity. The ability to design the monomer structure and incorporate catalytically active moieties makes 2D polymers versatile platforms for heterogeneous catalysis.

Sensing and Detection

The large surface area and chemical sensitivity of 2D polymers make them attractive for sensing and detection applications. By functionalizing the polymer surface with specific receptors or probe molecules, 2D polymers can be used to detect various analytes, such as gases, biomolecules, or environmental pollutants. The changes in the optical, electrical, or mechanical properties of the 2D polymer upon analyte binding can be transduced into measurable signals for sensitive and selective detection.

Challenges and Future Perspectives

Despite the significant progress in the synthesis and characterization of 2D polymers, several challenges remain to be addressed for their widespread application. One of the main challenges is the scalable synthesis of high-quality 2D polymers with precise control over their structure and properties. The development of efficient and reproducible polymerization methods that can produce large-area, defect-free 2D polymers is crucial for their practical implementation.
Another challenge lies in the processing and integration of 2D polymers into functional devices. The development of suitable fabrication techniques that preserve the intrinsic properties of 2D polymers while enabling their integration with other materials and components is essential. Strategies such as solution processing, transfer printing, and direct growth on substrates are being explored to address this challenge.
Future research in 2D polymers will focus on expanding the library of monomers and polymerization methods to access a wider range of structures and properties. The exploration of novel monomer chemistries, such as those incorporating functional groups, heteroatoms, or stimuli-responsive moieties, will enable the design of 2D polymers with tailored functionalities for specific applications. The integration of computational modeling and machine learning techniques will aid in the rational design and optimization of 2D polymer structures and properties.
Furthermore, the investigation of 2D polymer-based hybrid materials and heterostructures will open up new avenues for multi-functional devices. The combination of 2D polymers with other nanomaterials, such as nanoparticles, nanowires, or 2D materials, can lead to synergistic properties and enhanced performance in various applications, including energy storage, catalysis, and sensing.

Further Reading

Annual Review of Materials Research, Synthetic Two-Dimensional Polymers