Discrimination of saturated alkanes and relevant volatile compounds via the utilization of a conceptual fluorescent sensor array based on organoboron-containing polymers†
This work reports a conceptual sensor array for the highly discriminative analysis of 20 clinically and environmentally relevant volatile small organic molecules (VSOMs), including saturated alkanes and common solvents, in the air at room temperature. For the construction of the sensor array, a four coordinated, non-planar mono-boron complex and four relevant polymers are synthesized. Based on the polymers and the use of different substrates, 8 fluorescent films have been fabricated. Integration of the film-based sensors results in the sensor array, which demonstrates unprecedented discriminating capability toward the VSOMs. Moreover, for the signal molecule of lung cancer, n-pentane, the response time is less than 1 s, the experimental detection limit is lower than 3.7 ppm, and after repeating the tests over 50 times no observable degradation was observed. The superior sensing performance is partially ascribed to the tetrahedral structure of the boron centers in the polymers as it may produce molecular channels in the films, which are a necessity for fast and reversible sensing. In addition, the polarity of the micro-channels may endow the films with additional selectivity towards the analytes. The design as demonstrated provides an effective strategy to improve the sensing performance of fluorescent films to very challenging analytes, such as saturated alkanes.