The multifunctional properties of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) make them a powerful platform for unprecedented innovations in a variety of practical applications. As a result of the surging growth of nanotechnology, nanotubes present a potential problem as an environmental pollutant, and as such, an efficient method for their rapid detection must be established. Here, we propose a novel type of ionic sensor complex for detecting CNTs – an organic dye that responds sensitively and selectively to CNTs with a photoluminescent signal. The complexes are formed through Coulomb attractions between dye molecules with uncompensated charges and CNTs covered with an ionic surfactant in water. We demonstrate that the photoluminescent excitation of the dye can be transferred to the nanotubes, resulting in selective and strong amplification (up to a factor of 6) of the light emission from the excitonic levels of CNTs in the near-infrared spectral range, as experimentally observed via excitation-emission photoluminescence (PL) mapping. The chirality of the nanotubes and the type of ionic surfactant used to disperse the nanotubes both strongly affect the amplification; thus, the complexation provides sensing selectivity towards specific CNTs. Additionally, neither similar uncharged dyes nor CNTs covered with neutral surfactant form such complexes. As model organic molecules, we use a family of polymethine dyes with an easily tailorable molecular structure and, consequently, tunable absorbance and PL characteristics. This provides us with a versatile tool for the controllable photonic and electronic engineering of an efficient probe for CNT detection.
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Supplementary information accompanies the manuscript on the Light: Science & Applications website (http://www.nature.com/lsa/journal/v5/n2/full/lsa201628a.html/)
- carbon nanotubes
- ionic surfactant
- organic dye
- photoluminescence sensor