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Small. 2010 Sep 20;6(18):2026-34. doi: 10.1002/smll.201000825.

Alkyl passivation and amphiphilic polymer coating of silicon nanocrystals for diagnostic imaging.

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Department of Chemical Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX 78712, USA.


A method to produce biocompatible polymer-coated silicon nanocrystals for medical imaging is shown. Silica-embedded Si nanocrystals are formed by HSQ thermolysis. The nanocrystals are then liberated from the oxide and terminated with Si-H bonds by HF etching, followed by alkyl monolayer passivation by thermal hydrosilylation. The Si nanocrystals have an average diameter of 2.1 nm ± 0.6 nm and photoluminesce with a peak emission wavelength of 650 nm, which lies within the transmission window of 650-900 nm that is useful for biological imaging. The hydrophobic Si nanocrystals are then coated with an amphiphilic polymer for dispersion in aqueous media with the pH ranging between 7 and 10 and an ionic strength between 30 mM and 2 M, while maintaining a bright and stable photoluminescence and a hydrodynamic radius of only 20 nm. Fluorescence imaging of polymer-coated Si nanocrystals in biological tissue is demonstrated, showing the potential for in vivo imaging.

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