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J Phys Chem B. 2006 Mar 9;110(9):3853-5.

pH-sensitive quantum dots.

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Center for Supramolecular Science, Department of Chemistry, University of Miami, 1301 Memorial Drive, Coral Gables, Florida 33146-0431, USA.


We have designed organic ligands able to adsorb on the surface of CdSe-ZnS core-shell quantum dots and switch the luminescence of the inorganic nanoparticles in response to hydroxide anions. These compounds incorporate a [1,3]oxazine ring within their molecular skeleton, which reacts with the nucleophilic hydroxide anion to generate a 4-nitrophenylazophenolate chromophore. The chromogenic transformation activates an energy transfer pathway from the quantum dot to the adsorbed chromophores. As a result, the luminescence intensity of the coated nanoparticles decreases significantly in the presence of hydroxide anions. In fact, this mechanism can be exploited to probe the pH of aqueous solutions. Indeed, an increase in pH from 7.1 to 8.5 translates into a 35% decrease in the luminescence intensity of the sensitive quantum dots. Thus, our operating principles for luminescence switching can efficiently transduce a chemical stimulation into a change in the emissive response of semiconductor nanoparticles. In principle, this protocol can be extended from hydroxide anions to other target analytes with appropriate adjustments in the molecular design of the chromogenic ligands. It follows that luminescent chemosensors, based on the unique photophysical properties of semiconductor quantum dots, can eventually evolve from our design logic and choice of materials.

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