Avens, H.J., Chang, E.L., May, A.M. et al. J Nanopart Res (2011) 13: 331. doi:10.1007/s11051-010-0034-z
Incorporation of nanoparticles (NPs) into polymer films represents a valuable strategy for achieving a variety of desirable physical, optical, mechanical, and electrical attributes. Here, we describe and characterize the creation of highly fluorescent polymer films by entrapment of fluorescent NPs into polymer matrices through surface-mediated eosin photoinitiation reactions. Performing surface-mediated polymerizations with NPs combines the benefits of a covalently anchored film with the unique material properties afforded by NPs. The effects of monomer type, crosslinker content, NP size, and NP surface chemistry were investigated to determine their impact on the relative amount of NPs entrapped in the surface-bound films. The density of entrapped NPs was increased up to 6-fold by decreasing the NP diameter. Increasing the crosslinking agent concentration enabled a greater than 2-fold increase in the amount of NPs entrapped. Additionally, the monomer chemistry played a significant role as poly(ethylene glycol) diacrylate (PEGDA)-based monomer formulations entrapped a 10-fold higher density of carboxy-functionalized NPs than did acrylamide/bisacrylamide formulations, though the latter formulations ultimately immobilized more fluorophores by generating thicker films. In the context of a polymerization-based microarray biodetection platform, these findings enabled tailoring of the monomer and NP selection to yield a 200-fold improvement in sensitivity from 31 (±1) to 0.16 (±0.01) biotinylated target molecules per square micron. Similarly, in polymerization-based cell staining applications, appropriate monomer and NP selection enabled facile visualization of microscale, sub-cellular features. Careful consideration of monomer and NP selection is critical to achieve the desired properties in applications that employ surface-mediated polymerization to entrap NPs.