The doping of carbon quantum dots with nitrogen provides a promising direction to improve fluorescence performance and broaden their applications in sensing systems. Herein we report a one-pot solvothermal synthesis of N-doped carbon quantum dots (NCQDs) and the synthesis of a series of NCQDs with different nitrogen contents. The as-prepared NCQDs were compared with carbon quantum dots (CQDs); the introduction of nitrogen atoms largely increased the quantum yield of NCQDs and highest emission efficiency is up to 36.3 %. The fluorescence enhancement may originate from more polyaromatic structures induced by incorporated nitrogen atoms and protonation of nitrogen atoms on dots. It was found that NCQDs can act as a multifunctional fluorescence sensing platform because they can be used to detect pH values, AgI, and FeIII in aqueous solution. The fluorescence intensity of NCQDs is inversely proportional to pH values across a broad range from 5.0 to 13.5, which indicates that NCQDs can be devised as an effective pH indicator. Selective detection of AgI and FeIII was achieved based on their distinctive fluorescence influence because AgI can significantly enhance the fluorescence whereas FeIII can greatly quench the fluorescence. The quantitative determination of AgI can be accomplished with NCQDs by using the linear relationship between fluorescence intensity of NCQDs and concentration of AgI. The sensitive detection of H2O2 was developed by taking advantage of the distinct quenching ability of FeIII and FeII toward the fluorescence of NCQDs. Cellular toxicity test showed NCQDs still retain low toxicity to cells despite the introduction of a great deal of nitrogen atoms. Moreover, bioimaging experiments demonstrated that NCQDs have stronger resistance to photobleaching than CQDs and more excellent fluorescence labeling performance.
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