Three novel electron donor–acceptor conjugated polymers (P1–P3) bearing various imidazole pendants have been synthesized. Their excellent photophysical and electrochemical properties make them suitable transduction materials for chemosensing applications. Indeed, polymers P1–P3 have been found to show remarkable sensing capabilities towards H+ and Fe2+ in semi-aqueous solutions. Upon titration with H+, polymers P1 and P2 showed hypsochromic shifts of their absorptions and photoluminescence (PL) maxima with enhanced fluorescence intensities. However, P3 showed diminished absorption and fluorescence intensities under similar conditions due to static quenching. The anomalous behavior of P3 compared with P1 and P2 has been clarified in terms of electronic distributions through computational analysis. Furthermore, P3 (KSV=1.03×107) showed a superior sensing ability towards Fe2+ compared with P1 (KSV=2.01×106) and P2 (KSV=4.12×106) due to its improved molecular wire effect. Correspondingly, the fluorescence lifetime of P3 was greatly decreased (almost 11-fold) compared to those of polymers P1 (4.6-fold) and P2 (6.2-fold) in the presence of Fe2+. By means of a fluorescence on-off-on approach, chemosensing reversibilities in protonation–deprotonation and metallation–demetallation have been achieved by employing triethylamine (TEA) and the disodium salt of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (Na2-EDTA)/phenanthroline, respectively, as suitable counter ligands. 1H NMR titrations have revealed the unique behavior of P3 compared with P1 and P2. To the best of our knowledge, there have been no previous reports of Fe2+ sensors based on single imidazole receptors conjugated to a main-chain polymer showing such a diverse sensitivity pattern depending on their attached substituents.
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