A precise polyrotaxane synthesizer

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Science  12 Jun 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6496, pp. 1247-1253
DOI: 10.1126/science.abb3962

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Ten rings on one axle

Rotaxanes consist of molecular rings threaded on a central axle. Most approaches to their synthesis have focused on introducing a single ring per axle. Qiu et al. now report a systematic approach to threading up to 10 adjacent rings consecutively. The axle's end groups were constructed to attract free-floating rings when reduced and then to push those rings toward the center upon oxidation. Products of each successive reduction-oxidation cycle were characterized by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and mass spectrometry.

Science, this issue p. 1247


Mechanically interlocked molecules are likely candidates for the design and synthesis of artificial molecular machines. Although polyrotaxanes have already found niche applications in exotic materials with specialized mechanical properties, efficient synthetic protocols to produce them with precise numbers of rings encircling their polymer dumbbells are still lacking. We report the assembly line–like emergence of poly[n]rotaxanes with increasingly higher energies by harnessing artificial molecular pumps to deliver rings in pairs by cyclical redox-driven processes. This programmable strategy leads to the precise incorporation of two, four, six, eight, and 10 rings carrying 8+, 16+, 24+, 32+, and 40+ charges, respectively, onto hexacationic polymer dumbbells. This strategy depends precisely on the number of redox cycles applied chemically or electrochemically, in both stepwise and one-pot manners.

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