Aqueous solutions of graphene oxide (GO) and citrate-stabilised gold nanoparticles (AuNPs) are two classic, negatively charged colloids. Using the surface plasmon resonance spectra of AuNPs as a probe, we illustrate how the two like-charged colloids interact with each other and in so doing, reveal the unique solution behaviour of GO. We demonstrate that the electrical double layer of the GO sheets in water plays a key role in controlling the interaction between GO and AuNPs, which displays a one-way gate effect. It is shown that GO can capture and disperse AuNPs in water in a controllable fashion, without the need for additional chemical linkers. This discovery allows the successful synthesis of uncapped, yet solution-dispersible metal-nanoparticle assemblies. Such metal nanostructures have long been pursued for nano-plasmonics and sensing applications, but have remained difficult to prepare using conventional polymer dispersants. This work also makes clear that the combination of the two-dimensional conformation of GO along with its large molecular size and self-contained functional groups allows it to act as a unique soluble nanocarrier/substrate (the thinnest, functionalised flat substrate possible in nature) for the synthesis of new, soluble functional materials.
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