NMR detects molecular interactions of graphene with aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons in water
Polyaromatic carbon is widely held to be strongly diamagnetic and hydrophobic, with textbook van der Waals and 'π-stacked' binding of hydrocarbons, which disrupt their self-assembled supramolecular structures. The NMR of organic molecules sequestered by polyaromatic carbon is expected to be dominated by shielding from the orbital diamagnetism of π electrons. We report the first evidence of very different polar and magnetic behavior in water, wherein graphene remained well-dispersed after
... persed after extensive dialysis and behaved as a 1 H-NMR-silent ghost. Magnetic effects dominated the NMR of organic structures which interacted with graphene, with changes in spinspin coupling, vast increase in relaxation, line broadening and decrease in NMR peak heights when bound to graphene. However, the interactions were weak, reversible and did not disrupt organic self-assemblies reliant on hydrophobic 'π-stacking', even when substantially sequestered on the surface of graphene by the high surface area available. Interacting assemblies of aromatic molecules retained their strongly-shielded NMR signals and remained within self-assembled structures, with slower rates of diffusion from association with graphene, but with no further shielding from graphene. Binding to graphene was selective for positively-charged organic assemblies, weaker for non-aromatic and negligible for strongly-negatively-charged molecules, presumably repelled by a negative zeta potential of graphene in water. Stronger binders, or considerable excess of weaker binders readily reversed physisorption, with no evidence of structural changes from chemisorption. The fundamental nature of these different electronic interactions between organic and polyaromatic carbon is considered with relevance to electronics, charge storage, sensor, medical, pharmaceutical and environmental research.