Nucleation of Zeolitic Imidazolate Frameworks: from molecules to nanoparticles

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Royal Society of Chemistry (UK)
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We have studied the clusters involved in the initial stages of nucleation of Zeolitic Imidazolate Frameworks, employing a wide range of computational techniques. In the pre-nucleating solution, the prevalent cluster is the ZnIm4 cluster (formed by a zinc cation, Zn2+, and four imidazolate anions, Im−), although clusters such as ZnIm3, Zn2Im7, Zn2Im7, Zn3Im9, Zn3Im10, or Zn4Im12 have energies that are not much higher, so they would also be present in solution at appreciable quantities. All these species, except ZnIm3, have a tetrahedrally coordinated Zn2+ cation. Small ZnxImy clusters are less stable than the ZnIm4 cluster. The first cluster that is found to be more stable than ZnIm4 is the Zn41Im88 cluster, which is a disordered cluster with glassy structure. Bulk-like clusters do not begin to be more stable than glassy clusters until much larger sizes, since the larger cluster we have studied (Zn144Im288) is still less stable than the glassy Zn41Im88 cluster, suggesting that Ostwald's rule (the less stable polymorph crystallizes first) could be fulfilled, not for kinetic, but for thermodynamic reasons. Our results suggest that the first clusters formed in the nucleation process would be glassy clusters, which then undergo transformation to any of the various crystal structures possible, depending on the kinetic routes provided by the synthesis conditions. Our study helps elucidate the way in which the various species present in solution interact, leading to nucleation and crystal growth.
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Nanoscale, 2023,15, 3504-3519
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