Owing to their strong carbazole chromophore and fluorophore, as well as to their powerful and convergent hydrogen bond donors, 1,8-diaminocarbazoles are amongst the most attractive and synthetically versatile building blocks for the construction of anion receptors, sensors, and transporters. Aiming to develop carbazole-based colorimetric anion sensors, herein we describe the synthesis of 1,8-diaminocarbazoles substituted with strongly electron-withdrawing substituents, i.e., 3,6-dicyano and 3,6-dinitro. Both of these precursors were subsequently converted into model diamide receptors. Anion binding studies revealed that the new receptors exhibited significantly enhanced anion affinities, but also significantly increased acidities. We also found that rear substitution of 1,8-diamidocarbazole with two nitro groups shifted its absorption spectrum into the visible region and converted the receptor into a colorimetric anion sensor. The new sensor displayed vivid color and fluorescence changes upon addition of basic anions in wet dimethyl sulfoxide, but it was poorly selective; because of its enhanced acidity, the dominant receptor-anion interaction for most anions was proton transfer and, accordingly, similar changes in color were observed for all basic anions. The highly acidic and strongly binding receptors developed in this study may be applicable in organocatalysis or in pH-switchable anion transport through lipophilic membranes.
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