Zonal Rotor Centrifugation Revisited: New Horizons in Sorting Nanoparticles

Claudia Simone Plüisch, Brigitte Bössenecker, Lukas Dobler, Alexander Wittemann RSC Adv. 2019, 9, 27549 – 27559 DOI: 10.1039/C9RA05140F


Density gradient centrifugation is an effective method for the isolation and purification of small particles. Hollow rotors capable of hosting density gradients replace the need for centrifuge tubes and therefore allow separations at large scales. So far, zonal rotors have been used for biological separations ranging from the purification of whole cells down to serum proteins. We demonstrate that the high-resolution separation method opens up exciting perspectives apart from biology, namely in sorting mixtures of synthetic nanoparticles. Loading and unloading, while the rotor is spinning, avoids perturbations during acceleration and deceleration periods, and thus makes a vital contribution to sorting accuracy. Nowadays one can synthesize nanoscale particles in a wide variety of compositions and shapes. A prominent example for this are “colloidal molecules” or, generally speaking, defined assemblies of nanoparticles that can appear in varying aggregation numbers. Fractionation of such multimodal colloids plays an essential role with regard to their organization into hierarchical organized superstructures such as films, mesocrystals and metamaterials. Zonal rotor centrifugation was found to be a scalable method of getting “colloidal molecules” properly sorted. It allows access to pure fractions of particle monomers, dimers, and trimers, just as well as to fractions that are essentially rich in particle tetramers. Separations were evaluated by differential centrifugal sedimentation, which provides high-resolution size distributions of the collected nanoparticle fractions. The performance achieved in relation to resolution, zone widths, sorting efficiencies and recovery rates clearly demonstrate that zonal rotor centrifugation provides an excellent solution to the fractionation of nanoparticle mixtures.