Oriented Attachment: From Natural Crystal Growth to a Materials Engineering Tool

Bastiaan B.V. Salzmann, Maaike M. Van Der Sluijs, Giuseppe Soligno, Daniel Vanmaekelbergh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


ConspectusIntuitively, chemists see crystals grow atom-by-atom or molecule-by-molecule, very much like a mason builds a wall, brick by brick. It is much more difficult to grasp that small crystals can meet each other in a liquid or at an interface, start to align their crystal lattices and then grow together to form one single crystal. In analogy, that looks more like prefab building. Yet, this is what happens in many occasions and can, with reason, be considered as an alternative mechanism of crystal growth. Oriented attachment is the process in which crystalline colloidal particles align their atomic lattices and grow together into a single crystal. Hence, two aligned crystals become one larger crystal by epitaxy of two specific facets, one of each crystal. If we simply consider the system of two crystals, the unifying attachment reduces the surface energy and results in an overall lower (free) energy of the system. Oriented attachment often occurs with massive numbers of crystals dispersed in a liquid phase, a sol or crystal suspension. In that case, oriented attachment lowers the total free energy of the crystal suspension, predominantly by removal of the nanocrystal/liquid interface area. Accordingly, we should start by considering colloidal suspensions with crystals as the dispersed phase, i.e., "sols", and discuss the reasons for their thermodynamic (meta)stability and how this stability can be lowered such that oriented attachment can occur as a spontaneous thermodynamic process. Oriented attachment is a process observed both for charge-stabilized crystals in polar solvents and for ligand capped nanocrystal suspensions in nonpolar solvents. In this last system different facets can develop a very different reactivity for oriented attachment. Due to this facet selectivity, crystalline structures with very specific geometries can be grown in one, two, or three dimensions; controlled oriented attachment suddenly becomes a tool for material scientists to grow architectures that cannot be reached by any other means. We will review the work performed with PbSe and CdSe nanocrystals. The entire process, i.e., the assembly of nanocrystals, atomic alignment, and unification by attachment, is a very complex and intriguing process. Researchers have succeeded in monitoring these different steps with in situ wave scattering methods and real-space (S)TEM studies. At the same time coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations have been used to further study the forces involved in self-assembly and attachment at an interface. We will briefly come back to some of these results in the last sections of this review.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)787-797
Number of pages11
JournalAccounts of Chemical Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Feb 2021


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