04/11/2013, by

An electrically conducting ‘chemical network of neurons’

  • An international team of scientists designs a chemical nanosystem that is able to transfer information over long distances.
  • This system, published in Nature Communications, resembles a biological network of neurons, with nanorings interconnected by unusually large nanorods.
  • This system acts as a template for positioning carbon nanotubes to generate electrically conducting materials.
  • The team of researchers are now working on the system to be able to generate semiconducting plastic materials that can be used in flexible screens.

An international team of scientists has developed a new chemical system whose nanoscopic structure takes inspiration from the biological network of neurons.

The system, published in Nature Communications, is formed by nanorings interconnected by nanorods. This network shows an unexpected capability for transmitting electrical information, which makes it an excellent electrically conducting material.

Transmission electron microscopy image of the network

These geometrically defined and interconnected networks are produced through self-assembly of small molecular building blocks designed in Dr. Kleij’s laboratory, at the Institute of Chemical Research of Catalonia in Tarragona.

‘The molecular building blocks interact with each other through non-covalent molecular interactions and form the network structure able to transfer information through these chemical interactions.’ – explains Dr. Kleij

Besides, the team is able to incorporate different metals inside the building blocks to tailor the electrochemical, magnetic and/or optoelectronic characteristics of the network.

Arjan Kleij’s research team, together with their collaborators in Germany, Portugal and Russia, studied the possibility of using this new chemical system to transfer electrical information. The network was used as a positional template for multiwalled carbon nanotubes. The carbon nanotubes in contact with the system collinearly self-assembled onto the rods and rings in the network generating an electrically conducting material.

Full ring structure from a multimolecular thick chain

‘This new nano-conducting material has potential direct uses in molecular circuits or more powerful nanoelectronic materials’ – says Arjan Kleij.
Interesting opportunities for the use of these systems in different fields, such as sensoring platforms, integrated circuits and composite materials will arise.

The research team is now further investigating the system and its potential application with polymers to generate plastic semiconducting materials that could be used in tablets and mobile phones’ devices.


Nature Communications 4, Article number: 2648 doi:10.1038/ncomms3648

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