Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Chemistry


Sarah A. Green


The hydrogen ion activity (pH) is a very important parameter in environment monitoring, biomedical research and other applications. Optical pH sensors have several advantages over traditional potentiometric pH measurement, such as high sensitivity, no need of constant calibration, easy for miniaturization and possibility for remote sensing. Several pH indicators has been successfully immobilized in three different solid porous materials to use as pH sensing probes.

The fluorescent pH indicator fluorescein-5-isothiocyanate (FITC) was covalently bound onto the internal surface of porous silica (pore size ~10 nm) and retained its pH sensitivity. The excited state pK* a of FITC in porous silica (5.58) was slightly smaller than in solution (5.68) due to the free silanol groups (Si-OH) on the silica surface. The pH sensitive range for this probe is pH 4.5 - 7.0 with an error less than 0.1 pH units. The probe response was reproducible and stable for at least four month, stored in DI water, but exhibit a long equilibrium of up to 100 minutes.

Sol-gel based pH sensors were developed with immobilization of two fluorescent pH indicators fluorescein-5-(and-6)-sulfonic acid, trisodium salt (FS) and 8-hydroxypyrene- 1,3,6-trisulfonic acid (HPTS) through physical entrapment. Prior to immobilization, the indicators were ion-paired with a common surfactant hexadecyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) in order to prevent leaching. The sol-gel films were synthesized through the hydrolysis of two different precursors, ethyltriethoxysilane (ETEOS) and 3- glycidoxypropyltrimethoxysilane (GPTMS) and deposited on a quartz slide through spin coating. The pK a of the indicators immobilized in sol-gel films was much smaller than in solutions due to silanol groups on the inner surface of the sol-gel films and ammonium groups from the surrounding surfactants. Unlike in solution, the apparent pK a of the indicators in sol-gel films increased with increasing ionic strength. The equilibrium time for these sensors was within 5 minutes (with film thickness of ~470 nm).

Polyethylene glycol (PEG) hydrogel was of interest for optical pH sensor development because it is highly proton permeable, transparent and easy to synthesize. pH indicators can be immobilized in hydrogel through physical entrapment and copolymerization. FS and HPTS ion-pairs were physically entrapped in hydrogel matrix synthesized via free radical initiation. For covalent immobilization, three indicators, 6,8-dihydroxypyrene-1,3- disulfonic acid (DHPDS), 2,7-dihydroxynaphthalene-3,6-disulfonic acid (DHNDS) and cresol red were first reacted with methacrylic anhydride (MA) to form methacryloylanalogs for copolymerization. These hydrogels were synthesized in aqueous solution with a redox initiation system. The thickness of the hydrogel film is controlled as ~ 0.5 cm and the porosity can be adjusted with the percentage of polyethylene glycol in the precursor solutions. The pK a of the indicators immobilized in the hydrogel both physically and covalently were higher than in solution due to the medium effect. The sensors are stable and reproducible with a short equilibrium time (less than 4 minutes). In addition, the color change of cresol red immobilized hydrogel is vivid from yellow (acidic condition) to purple (basic condition). Due to covalently binding, cresol red was not leaching out from the hydrogel, making it a good candidate of reusable "pH paper".

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