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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter (O) March 13, 2018

Catalysis by Metallic Nanoparticles in Solution: Thermosensitive Microgels as Nanoreactors

  • Rafael Roa , Stefano Angioletti-Uberti , Yan Lu , Joachim Dzubiella , Francesco Piazza and Matthias Ballauff EMAIL logo


Metallic nanoparticles have been used as catalysts for various reactions, and the huge literature on the subject is hard to overlook. In many applications, the nanoparticles must be affixed to a colloidal carrier for easy handling during catalysis. These “passive carriers” (e.g. dendrimers) serve for a controlled synthesis of the nanoparticles and prevent coagulation during catalysis. Recently, hybrids from nanoparticles and polymers have been developed that allow us to change the catalytic activity of the nanoparticles by external triggers. In particular, single nanoparticles embedded in a thermosensitive network made from poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAM) have become the most-studied examples of such hybrids: immersed in cold water, the PNIPAM network is hydrophilic and fully swollen. In this state, hydrophilic substrates can diffuse easily through the network, and react at the surface of the nanoparticles. Above the volume transition located at 32°C, the network becomes hydrophobic and shrinks. Now hydrophobic substrates will preferably diffuse through the network and react with other substrates in the reaction catalyzed by the enclosed nanoparticle. Such “active carriers”, may thus be viewed as true nanoreactors that open new ways for the use of nanoparticles in catalysis. In this review, we give a survey on recent work done on these hybrids and their application in catalysis. The aim of this review is threefold: we first review hybrid systems composed of nanoparticles and thermosensitive networks and compare these “active carriers” to other colloidal and polymeric carriers (e.g. dendrimers). In a second step we discuss the model reactions used to obtain precise kinetic data on the catalytic activity of nanoparticles in various carriers and environments. These kinetic data allow us to present a fully quantitative comparison of different nanoreactors. In a final section we shall present the salient points of recent efforts in the theoretical modeling of these nanoreactors. By accounting for the presence of a free-energy landscape for the reactants’ diffusive approach towards the catalytic nanoparticle, arising from solvent-reactant and polymeric shell-reactant interactions, these models are capable of explaining the emergence of all the important features observed so far in studies of nanoreactors. The present survey also suggests that such models may be used for the design of future carrier systems adapted to a given reaction and solvent.

Dedicated to: Eckart Rühl on the occasion of his 60th birthday.


S.A-U. acknowledges financial support from the Beijing Municipal Government Innovation Center for Soft Matter Science and Engineering, as well as the Humboldt Foundation via a Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. J.D. and R.R. acknowledge funding by the ERC (European Research Council) Consolidator Grant with project number 646659–NANOREACTOR. F.P. acknowledges support from the French CNRS under the PICS scheme. All authors acknowledge useful discussions with Daniel Besold, Won Kyu Kim, and Matej Kanduc.


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Received: 2017-11-20
Accepted: 2018-2-4
Published Online: 2018-3-13
Published in Print: 2018-5-24

©2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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