Anisotropic Nanoparticles: Harnessing Shape-Dependent Properties for Advanced Applications

What are Anisotropic Nanoparticles?

Anisotropic nanoparticles are nanoparticles that possess different properties along different axes. Unlike their isotropic counterparts, which have uniform properties in all directions, anisotropic nanoparticles exhibit shape-dependent characteristics that give rise to unique optical, electronic, magnetic, and catalytic behavior. This anisotropy originates from the non-spherical morphology of these nanoparticles, which can take various forms such as rods, cubes, stars, and plates.
Illustration depicting various shapes of anisotropic nanoparticles
High-quality seeds can be used interchangeably to generate eight different shapes. Each panel represents a different shape synthesized and is arranged counterclockwise from top left as three-dimensional graphic rendering of the shape; TEM image (scale bars are 100 nm); high-magnification SEM image of crystallized nanoparticles (scale bars are 500 nm) with FFT pattern inset. Moving clockwise from the top left, the shapes described are cubes, concave rhombic dodecahedra, octahedra, tetrahexahedra, truncated ditetragonal prisms, cuboctahedra, concave cubes, and rhombic dodecahedra. (Image: Mirkin Research Group, Northwestern University)

Synthesis of Anisotropic Nanoparticles

The controlled synthesis of anisotropic nanoparticles is crucial for tailoring their properties and optimizing their performance for specific applications. Several strategies have been developed to achieve shape control during nanoparticle growth:

Seed-Mediated Growth

Seed-mediated growth is a widely used method for synthesizing anisotropic nanoparticles. It involves the use of preformed nanoparticle seeds as nucleation sites for the subsequent growth of the desired shape. By controlling the reaction conditions, such as temperature, pH, and the concentration of precursors and surfactants, the growth can be directed along specific crystal facets, resulting in the formation of anisotropic nanoparticles.

Template-Assisted Synthesis

Template-assisted synthesis employs pre-defined templates to guide the growth of anisotropic nanoparticles. The templates can be soft, such as surfactant micelles or polymer matrices, or hard, such as porous anodic alumina or silica. By confining the growth of the nanoparticles within the template, the desired shape can be achieved. After synthesis, the template is typically removed to obtain the freestanding anisotropic nanoparticles.

Kinetically Controlled Synthesis

Kinetically controlled synthesis relies on the manipulation of reaction kinetics to favor the growth of specific crystal facets over others. By adjusting parameters such as precursor concentration, reduction rate, and ligand binding, the relative growth rates of different facets can be tuned, leading to the formation of anisotropic nanoparticles. This approach often involves the use of shape-directing agents, such as surfactants or polymers, that selectively adsorb on specific facets and modulate their growth.

Properties and Applications

The shape anisotropy of nanoparticles gives rise to unique properties that are not observed in their isotropic counterparts. These properties can be exploited for a wide range of applications:

Optical Properties

Anisotropic nanoparticles exhibit shape-dependent optical properties, such as localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR). The LSPR of anisotropic nanoparticles is highly sensitive to their aspect ratio and can be tuned across a broad spectral range. This property makes them attractive for applications in sensing, imaging, and photothermal therapy. For example, gold nanorods have been extensively studied for their strong longitudinal LSPR, which can be exploited for highly sensitive biosensing and targeted photothermal cancer therapy.

Catalytic Properties

The exposed crystal facets of anisotropic nanoparticles often have distinct atomic arrangements and surface energies, which can greatly influence their catalytic activity and selectivity. By designing nanoparticles with high-index facets or sharp edges and corners, the density of active sites can be maximized, leading to enhanced catalytic performance. Anisotropic nanoparticles, such as platinum nanocubes and palladium nanoplates, have shown superior catalytic activity in various chemical reactions, including hydrogen evolution, oxygen reduction, and organic transformations.

Magnetic Properties

Anisotropic magnetic nanoparticles, such as iron oxide nanorods and cobalt nanowires, exhibit shape-dependent magnetic properties. The elongated morphology of these nanoparticles leads to magnetic anisotropy, where the magnetic moments prefer to align along the long axis. This anisotropy can be exploited for applications in high-density data storage, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and targeted drug delivery. By controlling the aspect ratio of the nanoparticles, the magnetic properties can be tuned to suit specific requirements.

Challenges and Future Perspectives

Despite the remarkable progress in the synthesis and application of anisotropic nanoparticles, several challenges remain. One major challenge is the scalable and reproducible synthesis of high-quality anisotropic nanoparticles with precise control over their size, shape, and composition. The development of robust and cost-effective synthesis methods is crucial for their widespread adoption in practical applications.
Future research directions in anisotropic nanoparticles will focus on exploring new shapes and compositions to access novel properties and functions. The integration of computational modeling and machine learning techniques will accelerate the rational design and optimization of anisotropic nanoparticles for specific applications. Additionally, the assembly of anisotropic nanoparticles into hierarchical structures and their integration with other functional materials will open up new avenues for advanced nanomaterials and devices.

Further Reading