• cavitands;
  • host–guest chemistry;
  • mass spectrometry;
  • molecular recognition;
  • sensors


Phosphonate cavitands are an emerging class of synthetic receptors for supramolecular sensing. The molecular recognition properties of the third-generation tetraphosphonate cavitands toward alcohols and water at the gas–solid interface have been evaluated by means of three complementary techniques and compared to those of the parent mono- and diphosphonate cavitands. The combined use of ESI-MS and X-ray crystallography defined precisely the host–guest association at the interface in terms of type, number, strength, and geometry of interactions. Quartz crystal microbalance (QCM) measurements then validated the predictive value of such information for sensing applications. The importance of energetically equivalent multiple interactions on sensor selectivity and sensitivity has been demonstrated by comparing the molecular recognition properties of tetraphosphonate cavitands with those of their mono- and diphosphonate counterparts.