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J Phys Chem B. 2016 Feb 4;120(4):766-72. doi: 10.1021/acs.jpcb.5b10909. Epub 2016 Jan 26.

Origin of Water-Induced Fluorescence Turn-On from a Schiff Base Compound: AIE or H-Bonding Promoted ESIPT?

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Department of Chemistry, The University of Akron , Akron, Ohio 44325, United States.
Department of Polymer Science, The University of Akron , Akron, Ohio 44325, United States.


A nonfluorescent Schiff base compound (4) in an aprotic solvent (e.g., CH3CN) is found to give blue fluorescence turn-on (λem ≈ 475 nm) upon addition of H2O. By using a wide range of spectroscopic methods, including (1)H NMR and dynamic light scattering, the fluorescence response is shown to be not originating from the molecular aggregation-induced emission (AIE). Spectroscopic studies at low temperatures further reveal a dynamic response of 4 to temperature, showing that the excited state intramolecular proton transfer (ESIPT) can be ON or OFF through interaction with protic solvent. In the binary solvent (with composition CH3CN/H2O = 3:1), the Schiff base gives ESIPT emission (λem ≈ 524 nm) only at extremely low temperature (below -80 °C), which is turned off when being warmed to -60 °C, attributing to the increasing photoinduced electron transfer (PET) effect. When the temperature is further raised to -20 °C, ESIPT emission is reactivated to give blue emission (λem ≈ 475 nm) that is observed at room temperature. The observed dynamic fluorescence response reveals that ESIPT could be a predominant mechanism in the fluorescence turn-on of Schiff base compounds, although both AIE and ESIPT mechanisms could operate. The assumption is further verified by examining the response of Schiff base to Al(3+) cation.

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