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Nature. 1997 Oct 23;389(6653):829-32.

Polymerized colloidal crystal hydrogel films as intelligent chemical sensing materials.

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  • 1Department of Chemistry, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15260, USA.


Chemical sensors respond to the presence of a specific analyte in a variety of ways. One of the most convenient is a change in optical properties, and in particular a visually perceptible colour change. Here we report the preparation of a material that changes colour in response to a chemical signal by means of a change in diffraction (rather than absorption) properties. Our material is a crystalline colloidal array of polymer spheres (roughly 100 nm diameter) polymerized within a hydrogel that swells and shrinks reversibly in the presence of certain analytes (here metal ions and glucose). The crystalline colloidal array diffracts light at (visible) wavelengths determined by the lattice spacing, which gives rise to an intense colour. The hydrogel contains either a molecular-recognition group that binds the analyte selectively (crown ethers for metal ions), or a molecular-recognition agent that reacts with the analyte selectively. These recognition events cause the gel to swell owing to an increased osmotic pressure, which increases the mean separation between the colloidal spheres and so shifts the Bragg peak of the diffracted light to longer wavelengths. We anticipate that this strategy can be used to prepare 'intelligent' materials responsive to a wide range of analytes, including viruses.

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