Optical monitoring of polymerizations in droplets with high temporal dynamic range†
The ability to optically monitor a chemical reaction and generate an in situ readout is an important enabling technology, with applications ranging from the monitoring of reactions in flow, to the critical assessment step for combinatorial screening, to mechanistic studies on single reactant and catalyst molecules. Ideally, such a method would be applicable to many polymers and not require only a specific monomer for readout. It should also be applicable if the reactions are carried out in microdroplet chemical reactors, which offer a route to massive scalability in combinatorial searches. We describe a convenient optical method for monitoring polymerization reactions, fluorescence polarization anisotropy monitoring, and show that it can be applied in a robotically generated microdroplet. Further, we compare our method to an established optical reaction monitoring scheme, the use of Aggregation-Induced Emission (AIE) dyes, and find the two monitoring schemes offer sensitivity to different temporal regimes of the polymerization, meaning that the combination of the two provides an increased temporal dynamic range. Anisotropy is sensitive at early times, suggesting it will be useful for detecting new polymerization “hits” in searches for new reactivity, while the AIE dye responds at longer times, suggesting it will be useful for detecting reactions capable of reaching higher molecular weights.