Supramolecular Chemistry—Scope and Perspectives Molecules, Supermolecules, and Molecular Devices (Nobel Lecture)


  • Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn

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    1. Institut le Bel, Université Louis Pasteur, 4, rue Blaise Pascal, F-67 000 Strasbourg (France), and Collège de France, 11 Place Marcelin Berthelot, F-75 005 Paris (France)
    • Institut Le Bel, Université Louis Pasteur, 4, rue Blaise Pascal, F-67000 Strasbourg (France), and Collège de France, 11 Place Marcelin Berthelot, F-75005 Paris (France)
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  • Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1988.–We thank the Nobel Foundation for permission to print this lecture. The figure on the preceding page shows a supermolecule formed from a heterotopic metallocoreceptor and a diammonium substrate; metal ions and an organic molecule are bound simultaneously. For further details see Section 4.4 (structure taken from Ref.[100]).


Supramolecular chemistry is the chemistry of the intermolecular bond, covering the structures and functions of the entities formed by association of two or more chemical species. Molecular recognition in the supermolecules formed by receptor-substrate binding rests on the principles of molecular complementarity, as found in spherical and tetrahedral recognition, linear recognition by coreceptors, metalloreceptors, amphiphilic receptors, and anion coordination. Supramolecular catalysis by receptors bearing reactive groups effects bond cleavage reactions as well as synthetic bond formation via cocatalysis. Lipophilic receptor molecules act as selective carriers for various substrates and make it possible to set up coupled transport processes linked to electron and proton gradients or to light. Whereas endoreceptors bind substrates in molecular cavities by convergent interactions, exoreceptors rely on interactions between the surfaces of the receptor and the substrate; thus new types of receptors, such as the metallonucleates, may be designed. In combination with polymolecular assemblies, receptors, carriers, and catalysts may lead to molecular and supramolecular devices, defined as structurally organized and functionally integrated chemical systems built on supramolecular architectures. Their recognition, transfer, and transformation features are analyzed specifically from the point of view of molecular devices that would operate via photons, electrons, or ions, thus defining fields of molecular photonics, electronics, and ionics. Introduction of photosensitive groups yields photoactive receptors for the design of light-conversion and charge-separation centers. Redox-active polyolefinic chains represent molecular wires for electron transfer through membranes. Tubular mesophases formed by stacking of suitable macrocyclic receptors may lead to ion channels. Molecular self-assembling occurs with acyclic ligands that form complexes of double-helical structure. Such developments in molecular and supramolecular design and engineering open perspectives towards the realization of molecular photonic, electronic, and ionic devices that would perform highly selective recognition, reaction, and transfer operations for signal and information processing at the molecular level.