Nanocarbons functionalization - it's a delicate dance

Curr. Top. Med. Chem. 2016, 16, 1976.
Nanocarbons come in different shape and size, and thus reactivity. However, this family of nanomaterials is renowned for the unique physico-chemical properties that make them stand out for their excellent performance in a number of applications, ranging from energy & catalysis, to nanomedicine & tissue engineering. However, one key limitation of nanocarbons in their pristine form is poor solubility in polar media and high tendency towards aggregation. In our group, we work intensively on nanocarbon functionalization, especially through covalent chemistry, to reduce this problem and allow nanocarbons to give their best performance even in water.
Covalent functionalization of nanocarbons is a delicate dance. First of all, it is important to fine-tune it upon the desired application: there is no universal solution to all problems. Importantly, covalent functionalization has the great potential to avoid aggregation, allow dispersibility in water and polar media, favor the interfacing of nanocarbons with other molecules and materials into uniform composites and hybrids, etc. Yet, it typically converts sp2 carbons to sp3, thus negatively affecting unique properties such as conductivity and reactivity. This is why it is important to find the right balance, as described for instance here. Secondly, proper purification and characterization are crucial and should not be taken light-heartedly if the aim is to do reproducible and reliable science.
ACS Nano 2015, 9, 9441.
You may be surprised by the profound impact that morphology and size have on nanocarbon performance. Each carbon nanostructure has a certain length, width, thickness, curvature, reactivity, porosity ... Despite the vast amount of literature on the topic, though, it is not yet universally clear a priori which one is the best for a specified performance. For instance, carbon nanotubes and elongated carbon nanomaterial assemblies appear to play an elected role for integration with neurons, as discussed on Science here.
Nano Today 2016, 11, 398.
In a recent work, nanohorns templated a structure of ideal porosity for environmentally-friendly electrochemical production of hydrogen peroxide, surpassing by far the performance of nanotubes, nanocones, and even graphene through the same process.

These are just a few examples... follow our publications or get in touch to find out more as we adventure in this exciting field.