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Variable Doping Induces Mechanism Swapping in Electrogenerated Chemiluminescence of Ru(bpy)32+ Core–Shell Silica Nanoparticles

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journal contribution
posted on 18.11.2016, 00:00 by Giovanni Valenti, Enrico Rampazzo, Sara Bonacchi, Luca Petrizza, Massimo Marcaccio, Marco Montalti, Luca Prodi, Francesco Paolucci
The impact of nanotechnology on analytical science is hardly overlooked. In the search for ever-increasing sensitivity in biomedical sensors, nanoparticles have been playing a unique role as, for instance, ultrabright labels, and unravelling the intimate mechanisms which govern their functioning is mandatory for the design of ultrasentitive devices. Herein, we investigated the mechanism of electrogenerated chemiluminescence (ECL) in a family of core–shell silica–PEG nanoparticles (DDSNs), variously doped with a Ru­(bpy)32+ triethoxysilane derivative, and displaying homogeneous morphological, hydrodynamic, and photophysical properties. ECL experiments, performed in the presence of 2-(dibutylamino)­ethanol (DBAE) as coreactant, showed two parallel mechanisms of ECL generation: one mechanism (I) which involves exclusively the radicals deriving from the coreactant oxidation and a second one (II) involving also the direct anodic oxidation of the Ru­(II) moieties. The latter mechanism includes electron (hole) hopping between neighboring redox centers as evidenced in our previous studies and supported by a theoretical model we have recently proposed. Quite unexpectedly, however, we found that the efficiency of the two mechanisms varies in opposite directions within the DDSNs series, with mechanism I or mechanism II prevailing at low and high doping levels, respectively. Since mechanism II has an intrinsically lower efficiency, the ECL emission intensity was also found to grow linearly with doping only at relatively low doping levels while it deviates negatively at higher ones. As the ζ-potential of DDSNs increases with the doping level from negative to slightly positive values, as a likely consequence of the accumulating cationic charge within the silica core, we attributed the observed change in the ECL generation mechanism along the DDSN series to a modulation of the electrostatic and hydrophobic/hydrophilic interactions between the DDSNs and the radical cationic species involved in the ECL generation. The results we report therefore show that the ECL intensity of a nanosized system cannot be merely incremented acting on doping, since other parameters come into play. We think that these results could serve as valuable indications to design more efficient ECL nano- and microsized labels for ultrasensitive bioanalysis.