Tuning mechanical performance of molecular materials is currently attractive owing to their practical applications in pharmaceutical, food, and fine chemical industries and optoelectronics. Here we employed a crystal engineering approach to transform four food flavouring agents, vanillin isomers, from brittle to soft solids by forming co-crystals with 6-chloro-2,4-dinitroaniline (cda). The series includes vanillin (van), ethylvanillin (evan), iso-vanillin (ivan), as well as a Schiff base of ortho-vanillin (ovan) with ethylene diamine (sb-ovan). All the co-crystals adopt flat two-dimensional (2D) layer packing, except the sb-ovan:cda, which adopts a corrugated layer packing with the presence of slip planes. The mechanical properties of the co-crystals were studied by (1) a qualitative method, (2) nanoindentation, and (3) powder compaction techniques, which allowed for successfully establishing the relationship among crystal structure, mechanical properties, and tablet tensile strength. The simple qualitative mechanical (deformation) tests confirmed plastic shearing deformation behavior in the cda co-crystals with van, evan, and ivan, while the co-crystal of sb-ovan:cda showed plastic bending due to the presence of slip planes formed by van der Waals interactions in the structure. The measured tensile strengths of the vanillin isomers and their respective co-crystals, which followed the order: sb-ovan:cda > evan > van > ivan:cda > evan:cda > van:cda > sb-ovan > ivan, confirmed that the plastically bendable co-crystal, sb-ovan:cda, shows a significant improvement in the compaction properties compared to any other form studied. In contrast to the initial brittle forms with isotropic structures, the new co-crystal solids show improved plasticity due to their anisotropic 2D-layer structures with active slip planes that facilitate the plastic deformation, which enhances tabletability, particularly in the plastic bendable solid. The study also suggests that the bending type crystals are potentially far better suitable for tabletability than the shearing and brittle type crystals.
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© 2015 American Chemical Society.