Functionalization of emissive conjugated polymer nanoparticles by coprecipitation: consequences for particle photophysics and colloidal properties

by Singh A, Bezuidenhout M, Walsh N, Beirne J, Felletti R, Wang S, Fitzgerald KT, Gallagher WM, Kiely P, Redmond G.

Nanotechnology, 2016 Jun 16;27(30):305603. [Epub ahead of print]

The functionalization of polyfluorene (PFO) nanoparticles by coprecipitation of the conjugated polymer with an amphiphilic comb polymer, consisting of a hydrophobic polystyrene backbone with hydrophilic, carboxylic acid-terminated polyethylene oxide side-chains (PS-PEG-COOH), is investigated. The comb polymer affects the properties of the formed hybrid nanoparticles. Non-functionalized particles are typically larger (28 nm) than functionalized ones (20 nm); peak molar extinction coefficients are found to differ in a similar trend. Zeta potentials are negative, consistent with negative surface charge on PFO particles due to chemical defect formation, with additional charge on functionalized particles due to the pendant carboxylic acid groups. Emission quantum yields of functionalized particles are typically larger, consistent with lower efficiency of energy transfer to quenchers in smaller particles and weaker PFO interchain interactions due to chain dilution. The trend in per-particle fluorescence brightness values, as confirmed by single particle fluorescence imaging, reflects the nanoparticle extinction coefficients. Photostability studies on aqueous dispersions of hybrid particles indicate mild photobrightening under continuous illumination while PFO particles exhibit slow exponential emission decay. Functionalized particles are also resistant to aggregation during exposure to adenocarcinoma cells. Generally, the hybrid particles exhibit more favorable time-, pH- and medium-dependent stabilities, likely due to steric and electrostatic stabilization by PEG-carboxylic acid functionalities. Overall, the functionalized particles exhibit attractive properties: Reasonably small size, tight size distribution, high absorption cross section, radiative rate and emission quantum yield, excellent brightness and photostability, and good colloidal stability.

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