Simple Self-Referenced Luminescent pH Sensors Based on Upconversion Nanocrystals and pH-Sensitive Fluorescent BODIPY Dyes
We present the design and fabrication of pH responsive ratiometric dual component sensor systems based on multicolor emissive upconversion nanoparticles (UCNP) and pH sensitive BODIPY dyes with tunable pKₐ values embedded into a polymeric hydrogel matrix. The use of NIR excitable NaYF₄:Yb³⁺,Tm³⁺ UCNPs enables background free read-out. Furthermore, the spectrally matching optical properties of the UCNPs and the dyes allow the UCNPs to serve as excitation light source for the analyte-responsive BODIPY as well as intrinsic reference. The blue upconversion luminescence (UCL) of NaYF₄:Yb³⁺,Tm³⁺ UCNPs excited at 980 nm, that overlaps with the absorption of the pH-sensitive fluorophore, provides reabsorption based excitation of the dye, the spectrally distinguishable green fluorescence of which is switched ON upon protonation, preventing photoinduced electron transfer (PET) within the dye moiety, and the pH-inert red UCL act as reference. The intensities ratios of the dye's fluorescence and the analyte-inert red Tm³⁺ UCL correlate directly with pH, which was successfully utilized for monitoring time-dependent pH changes of a suspension of quiescent E. coli metabolizing d-glucose.
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