Evaluating Formation and Growth Mechanisms of Silica Particles Using Fluorescence Anisotropy Decay Analysis
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At present, there is no direct experimental evidence that primary silica particles, which exist only transiently for a few seconds during the Stöber silica synthesis, can be stable in aqueous solutions. In the present work, we show that primary silica particles are formed spontaneously after the dissolution of diglycerylsilane (DGS) in aqueous solutions and remain stable for prolonged periods of time. By using time-resolved fluorescence anisotropy (TRFA), we demonstrate that this unique property of DGS is ascribed to the slow kinetics of silica particle growth in diluted sols at pH approximately 9.0. The anisotropy decay of the cationic dye rhodamine 6G (R6G), which strongly adsorbs to silica oligomers and nanoparticles in DGS sols, could be fit to three components: a fast (picosecond) scale component associated with free R6G, a slower (nanosecond) rotational component associated with R6G bound to primary silica particles, and a residual (nondecaying) anisotropy component associated with R6G that was bound to secondary or larger particles that were unable to rotate on the time scale of the R6G emission lifetime (4 ns). The data show that, under conditions where fast hydrolysis is obtained, the initial size of the nuclei depends on the silica concentration, with larger nuclei being present in more concentrated sols, while the rate of growth of primary particles depends on both silica concentration and solution pH. At low silica concentrations and high pHs, it was possible to observe the growth of stable, nonaggregating primary silica particles by a mechanism involving rapid nucleation followed by monomer addition. The presence of stable primary particles was confirmed by atomic force microscopy (AFM) imaging. At higher silica concentrations and lower pHs, there was an increase in the initial size of the nuclei formed, which subsequently grew to a larger radius (> 4.5 nm) or aggregated with time, and in such cases, nucleation and aggregation occurred simultaneously in the early stage of silica formation. The data clearly show the power of time-resolved fluorescence anisotropy decay measurements for probing the growth of silica colloids and show that this method is useful for elucidating the mechanism of particle formation and growth in situ.
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