Thalappil Pradeep, Indranath Chakraborty
Atomically precise pieces of matter of nanometer dimensions composed of noble metals are new categories of materials with many unusual properties. Over 100 molecules of this kind with formulas such as Au25(SR)18, Au38(SR)24, and Au102(SR)44 as well as Ag25(SR)18, Ag29(S2R)12, and Ag44(SR)30 (often with a few counterions to compensate charges) are known now. They can be made reproducibly with robust synthetic protocols, resulting in colored solutions, yielding powders or diffractable crystals. They are distinctly different from nanoparticles in their spectroscopic properties such as optical absorption and emission, showing well-defined features, just like molecules. They show isotopically resolved molecular ion peaks in mass spectra and provide diverse information when examined through multiple instrumental methods. Most important of these properties is luminescence, often in the visible–near-infrared window, useful in biological applications. Luminescence in the visible region, especially by clusters protected with proteins, with a large Stokes shift, has been used for various sensing applications, down to a few tens of molecules/ions, in air and water. Catalytic properties of clusters, especially oxidation of organic substrates, have been examined. Materials science of these systems presents numerous possibilities and is fast evolving. Computational insights have given reasons for their stability and unusual properties. The molecular nature of these materials is unequivocally manifested in a few recent studies such as intercluster reactions forming precise clusters. These systems manifest properties of the core, of the ligand shell, as well as that of the integrated system. They are better described as protected molecules or aspicules, where aspis means shield and cules refers to molecules, implying that they are “shielded molecules”. In order to understand their diverse properties, a nomenclature has been introduced with which it is possible to draw their structures with positional labels on paper, with some training. Research in this area is captured here, based on the publications available up to December 2016.