Noble metal nanoparticles embedding into polymeric materials: From fundamentals to applications.
Metal nanoparticle-polymer composites are versatile materials which not only combine the unique characteristics of the components, but also manifest mutualistic effects between the two. Embedding inside polymer thin films facilitates immobilization and organization of the metal nanoparticles and tuning of their electronic and optical responses by the dielectric environment. The embedded metal nanoparticles in turn can impact upon the various material attributes of the polymer matrix. Some of the most convenient and attractive routes to the fabrication of metal nanoparticle-embedded polymer thin films involve in situ generation of the nanoparticles through reduction or decomposition of appropriate precursors inside the solid film. In this tutorial review we present an overview of the different methodologies developed using this general concept and describe the environment-friendly protocol we have optimized for the fabrication of noble metal nanostructures inside polymer thin films, using aqueous media for the synthesis and deploying the polymer itself as the reducing as well as stabilizing agent. A variety of techniques that have been exploited to characterize the precursor to product transformation inside the polymer film are discussed. The unique control provided by the in situ fabrication route on the size, shape and distribution of the nanostructures, and application of the polymer thin films with the in situ generated metal nanoparticles in areas such as nonlinear optics, surface enhanced Raman scattering, e-beam lithography, microwave absorption, non-volatile memory devices and random lasers, illustrate the versatility of these materials. A brief appraisal of the avenues for future developments in this area is presented.