Surfactant modulated aggregation induced enhancement of emission (AIEE)—a simple demonstration to maximize sensor activity†
A new type of easily synthesized rhodamine-based chemosensor L3, with potential NO2 donor atoms, selectively and rapidly recognizes Hg2+ ions in the presence of all biologically relevant metal ions and toxic heavy metals. A very low detection limit (78 nM) along with cytoplasmic cell imaging applications with no or negligible cytotoxicity indicate good potential for in vitro/in vivo cell imaging studies. SEM and TEM studies reveal strongly agglomerated aggregations in the presence of 5 mM SDS which turn into isolated core shell microstructures in the presence of 9 mM SDS. The presence of SDS causes an enhanced quantum yield (φ) and stability constant (Kf) compared to those in the absence of SDS. Again, the FI of the [L3–Hg]2+ complex in an aqueous SDS (9 mM) medium is unprecedentedly enhanced (∼143 fold) compared to that in the absence of SDS. All of these observations clearly manifest in the enhanced rigidity of the [L3–Hg]2+ species in the micro-heterogeneous environment significantly restricting its dynamic movements. This phenomenon may be ascribed as an aggregation induced emission enhancement (AIEE). The fluorescence anisotropy assumes a maximum at 5 mM SDS due to strong trapping (sandwiching) of the doubly positively charged [L3–Hg]2+ complex between two co-facial laminar microstructures of SDS under pre-miceller conditions where there is a strong electrostatic interaction that causes an improved inhibition to dynamic movement of the probe-mercury complex. On increasing the SDS concentration there is a phase transition in the SDS microstructures and micellization starts to prevail at SDS ≥ 7.0 mM. The doubly positively charged [L3–Hg]2+ complex is trapped inside the hydrophobic inner core of the micelle which is apparent from the failure to quench the fluorescence of the complex on adding 10 equivalents of H2EDTA2− solution but in the absence of SDS it is quenched effectively.