Optical captor design is necessary for the controlled development of a technique for detecting and removing heavy and toxic metals from drinking water with high flexibility and low capital cost. We designed chemical mesocaptors for optical separation/extraction and monitoring/detection of Cu(II) and Zn(II) ions from water even at trace concentration levels without a preconcentration process. The mesoporous aluminosilica carriers with three-dimensional (3D) structures, high aluminum content, natural surfaces, and active acid sites strongly induced H-bonding and dispersive interactions with organic moieties, thereby leading to the formation of stable captors without chromophore leaching during the removal assays of Cu(II) and Zn(II) ions. Using such a tailored mesocaptor design, the direct immobilization of these hydrophobic ligands (4,5-diamino-6-hydroxy-2-mercaptopyrimidine and diphenylthiocarbazone) into ordered pore-based aluminasilica monoliths enabled the easy generation and transduction of optical colour signals as a response to metal-to-ligand binding events, even at ultra-trace concentrations (∼10−9 mol dm−3) of Cu(II) and Zn(II) ions in drinking water, without the need for sophisticated instruments. Theoretical models have been developed to provide insights into the effect of active site surfaces on the enhancement of the optical removal process in terms of long-term stability, reversibility, and selectivity, hence allowing us to understand the role of mesoscopic geometry and nanoscale pore orientation of mesocaptors better. Generally, this ion-capture model enables the development of a simple and effective technique for effective wastewater treatment and management.
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