Development of simple, cost-effective, and sensitive fluorescence-based sensors for explosives implies broad applications in homeland security, military operations, and environmental and industrial safety control. However, the reported fluorescence sensory materials (e.g., polymers) usually respond to a class of analytes (e.g., nitroaromatics), rather than a single specific target. Hence, the selective detection of trace amounts of trinitrotoluene (TNT) still remains a big challenge for fluorescence-based sensors. Here we report the selective detection of TNT vapor using the nanoporous fibers fabricated by self-assembly of carbazole-based macrocyclic molecules. The nanoporosity allows for time-dependent diffusion of TNT molecules inside the material, resulting in further fluorescence quenching of the material after removal from the TNT vapor source. Under the same testing conditions, other common nitroaromatic explosives and oxidizing reagents did not demonstrate this postexposure fluorescence quenching; rather, a recovery of fluorescence was observed. The postexposure fluorescence quenching as well as the sensitivity is further enhanced by lowering the highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO) level of the nanofiber building blocks. This in turn reduces the affinity for oxygen, thus allocating more interaction sites for TNT. Our results present a simple and novel way to achieve detection selectivity for TNT by creating nanoporosity and tuning molecular electronic structure, which when combined may be applied to other fluorescence sensor materials for selective detection of vapor analytes.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Colloid and Surface Chemistry