Comparing pH-responsive nanogel swelling in dispersion and inside a polyacrylamide gel using photoluminescence spectroscopy and small-angle neutron scattering

Mingning Zhu, Dongdong Lu, Amir H. Milani, Najet Mahmoudi, Stephen M. King, Brian R. Saunders

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Abstract

Nanosized probes that report their changes in dimensions within networks in response to environmental stimuli are potentially important for applications such as drug delivery, load-supporting hydrogels and soft robotics. Recently, we developed a fluorescent pH-responsive nanogel (NG) that used Förster-resonance energy transfer (FRET) to report changes in the probe separation and NG swelling within hydrogels using photoluminescence (PL) spectroscopy. However, FRET cannot measure nanoparticle dimensions and is subject to artefacts. Here, we report the use of small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) to study both the NGs in dispersion and in polyacrylamide (PAAm) gels as a function of pH. We compare the PL and SANS data for both systems and as a function of pH. The SANS data for the dispersed NGs indicate that they have a core–shell structure with a swollen mesh size of ∼1.0 nm. We hypothesized that the NGs inside the PAAm gel would show the same general changes in scattering as the pH is increased, as observed for the dispersed NGs, and this is confirmed by the data. In summary, the data confirm that PL is a suitable (accessible) method for reporting internal environmental changes within gels using NG probes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-385
JournalJournal of Colloid and Interface Science
Volume608
Early online date29 Sept 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2022

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