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Multinuclear (1H, 13C and 27Al) magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1D and 2D), DFT calculations and fluorescence have been used to study the complexation of 8-hydroxyquinoline-5-sulfonate (8-HQS) with Al(III). The study combines the high sensitivity of luminescence techniques, the selectivity of multinuclear NMR spectroscopy with the structural details accessible through DFT calculations, and aims to provide a detailed understanding of the complexation between the Al3+ ion and 8-HQS. A full speciation study has been performed and over the concentration region studied, the Al3+ ion forms complexes with 8-HQS in an aqueous solution in the pH range 2–6. At higher pH, the extensive hydrolysis of the metal limits complexation. Using Job's method, three complexes were detected, with 1:1, 1:2 and 1:3 (metal:ligand) stoichiometries. These results are in agreement with those previously reported using potentiometric and electrochemical techniques. The geometries of the complexes are proposed based on the combination of NMR results with optimized DFT calculations. All the complexes in aqueous solutions at 25 °C are mononuclear species, and have an approximately octahedral geometry with the metal coordinated to one molecule of 8-HQS and four molecules of water (1:1 complex), two molecules of 8-HQS and two molecules of water mutually cis (1:2 complex), and to three molecules of 8-HQS in non-symmetrical arrangement (mer-isomer), for the 1:3 (metal:ligand) complex. On binding to Al(III), 8-HQS shows a more marked fluorescence than the weakly fluorescent free ligand. In addition, as previously noted, there are marked changes in the absorption spectra, which support the use of 8-HQS as a sensitive optical sensor to detect Al3+ metal ions in surface waters and biological fluids. These complexes also show potential for applications in organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs).
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