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Structure-related differences in the temperature-regulated fluorescence response of LCST type polymers

Inal, Sahika; Kölsch, Jonas D.; Chiappisi, Leonardo; Janietz, Dietmar; Gradzielski, Michael; Laschewsky, André; Neher, Dieter

Inst. Chemie

We demonstrate new fluorophore-labelled materials based on acrylamide and on oligo(ethylene glycol) (OEG) bearing thermoresponsive polymers for sensing purposes and investigate their thermally induced solubility transitions. It is found that the emission properties of the polarity-sensitive (solvatochromic) naphthalimide derivative attached to three different thermoresponsive polymers are highly specific to the exact chemical structure of the macromolecule. While the dye emits very weakly below the LCST when incorporated into poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (pNIPAm) or into a polyacrylate backbone bearing only short OEG side chains, it is strongly emissive in polymethacrylates with longer OEG side chains. Heating of the aqueous solutions above their cloud point provokes an abrupt increase of the fluorescence intensity of the labelled pNIPAm, whereas the emission properties of the dye are rather unaffected as OEG-based polyacrylates and methacrylates undergo phase transition. Correlated with laser light scattering studies, these findings are ascribed to the different degrees of pre-aggregation of the chains at low temperatures and to the extent of dehydration that the phase transition evokes. It is concluded that although the temperature-triggered changes in the macroscopic absorption characteristics, related to large-scale alterations of the polymer chain conformation and aggregation, are well detectable and similar for these LCST-type polymers, the micro-environment provided to the dye within each polymer network differs substantially. Considering sensing applications, this finding is of great importance since the temperature-regulated fluorescence response of the polymer depends more on the macromolecular architecture than the type of reporter fluorophore.
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