We report on the fabrication of thermoresponsive poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) nanogel-based dual fluorescent sensors for temperature and Hg2+ ions, and the effects of thermo-induced nanogel collapse on the detection sensitivity of Hg2+ ions. Near-monodisperse thermoresponsive nanogels were prepared via emulsion polymerization of N-isopropylacrylamide (NIPAM) and a novel 1,8-naphthalimide-based polarity-sensitive and Hg2+-reactive fluorescent monomer (NPTUA, 3). At room temperature, PNIPAM nanogels labeled with a single type of naphthalimide-based dye (NPTUA) can act as ratiometric Hg2+ probes at the nanomolar level. Upon heating above the phase transition temperature, the fluorescence intensity of NPTUA-labeled nanogels in the absence of Hg2+ exhibit ∼3.4-fold increase due to that NPTUA moieties are now located in a more hydrophobic microenvironment. Moreover, it was observed that the detection sensitivity to Hg2+ can be further improved above the nanogel phase transition temperature. At a nanogel concentration of 0.05 g L−1 and in the same Hg2+ concentration range (0–3.0 equiv.), ∼10 fold and ∼57 fold increase in fluorescence emission intensity ratio changes can be achieved at 25 and 40 °C, respectively.
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