Fractal structures of single-walled carbon nanotubes in biologically relevant conditions: role of chirality vs. media conditions.


Aggregate structure of covalently functionalized chiral specific semiconducting single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNTs) was systematically studied employing static light scattering (SLS). Fractal dimensions (Df) of two specific chirality SWNTs-SG65 and SG76 with (6, 5) and (7, 6) chiral enrichments-were measured under four biological exposure media conditions, namely: Dulbecco's Modified Eagle Medium (DMEM), Minimum Essential Medium (MEM), Roswell Park Memorial Institute (RPMI) 1640 medium, and 0.9% saline solution. The SWNTs exhibited chiral dependence on Df with SG65 showing more fractal or loosely bound aggregate structures, i.e., lower Df values (range of 2.24±0.03 to 2.64±0.05), compared to the SG76 sample (range of 2.58±0.13 to 2.90±0.08). All the Df values reported are highly reproducible, measured from multiple SLS runs and estimated with 'random block-effects' statistical analysis that yielded all p values to be <0.001. The key mechanism for such difference in Df between the SWNT samples was identified as the difference in van der Waals (VDW) interaction energies of these samples, where higher VDW of SG76 resulted in tighter packing density. Effect of medium type showed lower sensitivity; however, presence of di-valent cations (Ca(2+)) in DMEM and MEM media resulted in relatively loose or more fractal aggregates. Moreover, presence of fetal bovine serum (FBS) and bovine serum albumin (BSA), used to mimic the in vitro cell culture condition, reduced the Df values, i.e., created more fractal structures. Steric hindrance to aggregation was identified as the key mechanism for creating the fractal structures. Also, increase in FBS concentration from 1% to 10% resulted in increasingly lower Df values.