Polyion complexes have been known about for decades, with their applications mainly restricted to drug and gene delivery. In this study, we show that by the introduction of fluorescent charged molecules into a polyion complex, it can be used as a specific detection system for surfactants. The fluorescence of 8-hydroxy-1,3,6-pyrenetrisulfonic acid trisodium salt (HPTS) is quenched in the ionic complex, while it can be recovered with the addition of the surfactant sodium dodecylbenzenesulfonate (SDBS), due to the stronger interaction between SDBS and the polyelectrolyte. This leads to a drastic color change of the solution, and a recovery of the strong emission of HPTS. Specifically, the fluorescence is linearly proportional to the concentration of SDBS, thus it can be used for the qualitative detection of SDBS. Furthermore, the detection limit for SDBS can be up to the order of 10−10
M. We believe that competitive dissociation of the ionic complex can be used as a general approach for the construction of new functional materials.
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