Poly[n]catenanes: Synthesis of molecular interlocked chains

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Science  15 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6369, pp. 1434-1439
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap7675

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A little zinc makes the rings all link

Although polymer strands are often informally called chains, molecular topologies that actually resemble extended macroscopic chain links have proven surprisingly challenging to make. Most approaches have settled for tethering pairs of interlocked rings amid spacer segments. Wu et al. now report successful synthesis of polycatenanes in which tens of rings are consecutively interlinked. The key was using zinc ions to template the threading of one macrocycle precursor through flanking preformed macrocycles, after which metathesis catalysis closed up the first ring, and the metal could be flushed out.

Science, this issue p. 1434


As the macromolecular version of mechanically interlocked molecules, mechanically interlocked polymers are promising candidates for the creation of sophisticated molecular machines and smart soft materials. Poly[n]catenanes, where the molecular chains consist solely of interlocked macrocycles, contain one of the highest concentrations of topological bonds. We report, herein, a synthetic approach toward this distinctive polymer architecture in high yield (~75%) via efficient ring closing of rationally designed metallosupramolecular polymers. Light-scattering, mass spectrometric, and nuclear magnetic resonance characterization of fractionated samples support assignment of the high–molar mass product (number-average molar mass ~21.4 kilograms per mole) to a mixture of linear poly[7–26]catenanes, branched poly[13–130]catenanes, and cyclic poly[4–7]catenanes. Increased hydrodynamic radius (in solution) and glass transition temperature (in bulk materials) were observed upon metallation with Zn2+.

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