The present invention provides a generalizable single-source sol-gel precursor capable of introducing a wide range of functionalities to metal oxides such as silica. The sol-gel precursor facilitates a one-molecule, one-step approach to the synthesis of metal-silica hybrids with combinations of biological, catalytic, magnetic, and optical functionalities. The single-source precursor also provides a flexible route for simultaneously incorporating functional species of many different types. The ligands employed for functionalizing the metal oxides are derived from a library of amino acids, hydroxy acids, or peptides and a silicon alkoxide, allowing many biological functionalities to be built into silica hybrids. The ligands can coordinate with a wide range of metals via a carboxylic acid, thereby allowing direct incorporation of inorganic functionalities from across the periodic table. Using the single-source precursor a wide range of functionalized nanostructures such as monolith structures, mesostructures, multiple metal gradient mesostructures and Stober-type nanoparticles can be synthesized. ##STR00001##
STATEMENT OF GOVERNMENT RIGHTS
 This invention was made with Government support under contract number DE-FG02-03ER46072, awarded by the Department of Energy ("DOE"), and contract number DMR-00799992, awarded by the National Science Foundation ("NSF"). Scott Warren acknowledges support from the Environmental Protection Agency ("EPA") Science to Achieve Results ("STAR") fellowship program from 2004-2007. The Government has certain rights in this invention.