Chiral emergence in multistep hierarchical assembly of achiral conjugated polymers.

Kyung Sun Park, Zhengyuan Xue, Bijal B. Patel, Hyosung An, Justin J. Kwok, Prapti Kafle, Qian Chen, Diwakar Shukla, Ying Diao
Nature Communications, Volume 13, Article number 2738, 2022.

Intimately connected to the rule of life, chirality remains a long-time fascination in biology, chemistry, physics and materials science. Chiral structures, e.g., nucleic acid and cholesteric phase developed from chiral molecules are common in nature and synthetic soft materials. While it was recently discovered that achiral but bent core mesogens can also form chiral helices, the assembly of chiral microstructures from achiral polymers has rarely been explored. Here, we reveal chiral emergence from achiral conjugated polymers for the first time, in which hierarchical helical structures are developed through a multistep assembly pathway. Upon increasing concentration beyond a threshold volume fraction, pre-aggregated polymer nanofibers form lyotropic liquid crystalline (LC) mesophases with complex, chiral morphologies. Combining imaging, X-ray and spectroscopy techniques with molecular simulations, we demonstrate that this structural evolution arises from torsional polymer molecules which induce multiscale helical assembly, progressing from nano- to micron scale helical structures as the solution concentration increases. This study unveils a previously unknown complex state of matter for conjugated polymers that can pave way to a new field of chiral (opto)electronics. We anticipate that hierarchical chiral helical structures can profoundly impact how conjugated polymers interact with light, transport charges, and transduce signals from biomolecular interactions and even give rise to properties unimagined before.

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