Fluorescent polycatecholamine nanostructures as a versatile probe for multiphase systems†
Shape and size controlled nanostructures are critical for nanotechnology and have versatile applications in understanding interfacial phenomena of various multi-phase systems. Facile synthesis of fluorescent nanostructures remains a challenge from conventional precursors. In this study, bio-inspired catecholamines, dopamine (DA), epinephrine (EP) and levodopa (LDA), were used as precursors and fluorescent nanostructures were synthesized via a simple one pot method in a water–alcohol mixture under alkaline conditions. DA and EP formed fluorescent spheres and petal shaped structures respectively over a broad spectrum excitation wavelength, whereas LDA did not form any particular structure. However, the polyepinephrine (PEP) micropetals were formed by weaker interactions as compared to covalently linked polydopamine (PDA) nanospheres, as revealed by NMR studies. Application of these fluorescent structures was illustrated by their adsorption behavior at the oil/water interface using laser scanning confocal microscopy. Interestingly, PDA nanospheres showed complete coverage of the oil/water interface despite its hydrophilic nature, as compared to hydrophobic PEP micropetals which showed a transient coverage of the oil/water interface but mainly self-aggregated in the water phase. The reported unique fluorescent organic structures will play a key role in understanding various multi-phase systems used in aerospace, biomedical, electronics and energy applications.