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In this study a new pH-responsive nanogel probe containing a complementary nonradiative resonance energy transfer (NRET) fluorophore pair is investigated and its ability to act as a versatile probe of network-related changes in three hydrogels demonstrated. Fluorescent sensing using NRET is a powerful method for studying relationships between Angstrom length-scale structure and macroscopic properties of soft matter. Unfortunately, inclusion of NRET fluorophores into such materials requires material-specific chemistry. Here, low concentrations of preformed nanogel probes were included into hydrogel hosts. Ratiometric photoluminescence (PL) data for the gels labeled with the nanogel probes enabled pH-triggered swelling and deswelling to be studied as well as Ca2+-triggered collapse and solute release. PL measurements during compression of a nanogel probe-labeled nanocomposite gel demonstrated mechanochromic behavior and strain sensing. The new nanogel probes have excellent potential for investigating the internal structures of gels and provide a versatile ratiometric fluorescent platform for studying pH and strain.


This article was originally published in ACS Macro Letters, volume 6, in 2017. DOI: 10.1021/acsmacrolett.7b00709

mz7b00709_si_001.pdf (1518 kB)
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American Chemical Society

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.