Chiral Molecular Carbon Nanostructures

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Chirality is a fascinating property present in naturally occurring and artificial molecules and materials, observable as chiroptical behavior. The emerging area of carbon nanostructures has undergone tremendous development, with a wide variety of carbon nanoforms reported over the last two decades. However, despite interest in merging chirality and nanocarbons, this has been successfully achieved only in empty fullerenes, whereas in other kinds of fullerenes or carbon nanostructures such as carbon nanotubes, graphene, and graphene quantum dots (GQDs), to name the most popular systems, it is almost unknown. Therefore, controlling chirality in carbon nanostructures currently represents a major challenge for the chemical community. In this Account, we show our progress in the synthesis of chiral molecular carbon nanostructures, namely, metallofullerenes, endohedral fullerenes, GQDs, and curved molecular nanographenes, by using asymmetric catalysis and both topdown and bottom-up chemical approaches. Furthermore, we bring in a new family of lesser-known molecular chiral bilayer nanographenes, where chirality is introduced from the starting helicene moiety and a single enantiomer of the nanographene is synthesized. Some important landmarks in the development of chiral molecular carbon nanostructures shown in this Account are the application of synthesis-tailored, enantiomerically pure metallofullerenes as catalysts for hydrogen transfer reactions and the use of endohedral fullerenes to determine the effect of the incarcerated molecule in the carbon cage on the cis−trans stereoisomerization of optically active pendent moieties. Furthermore, the first top-down synthesis of chiral GQDs by functionalization with chiral alcohols is also presented. An emerging alternative to GQDs, when the desire for purity and atomistic control outweighs the cost of multistep synthesis, is the bottom-up approach, in which molecular nanographenes are formed in precise sizes and shapes and enantiomeric control is feasible. In this regard, a singular and amazing example is given by our synthesis of a single enantiomer of the first chiral bilayer nanographene, which formally represents a new family of molecular nanographenes with chirality controlled and maintained throughout their syntheses. The aforementioned synthetic chiral nanostructures represent groundbreaking nanocarbon systems where chirality is a further dimension of structural control, paving the way to a new scenario for carbon nanoforms in which chirality selection determines the properties of these novel carbon-based materials. Fine-tuning of such properties is envisioned to impact biomedical and materials science applications.