Contribution of inelastic neutron scattering to the characterization of the grafting of fluorophores onto double-walled carbon nanotubes

Abstract : Facing the growing use of carbon nanotubes (CNTs) in state-of-the-art applications, the question of their potential impact on health and environment became a central one. In order to evaluate the risks related to living being exposure to those nanoparticles, several toxicity studies have been performed aiming at knowing the exact location of the CNTs accumulating inside organisms or cells. A very common way to track them in such conditions is to functionalize the CNTs with fluorescent molecules which would be highlighted afterwards under a light with appropriate exciting wavelength. Despite the fact that these fluorescence techniques are very cheap and easy to operate, they suffer from a major drawback: they assumes that the fluorescent molecule is permanently linked to the CNTs. It is however reasonable to question this assumption as the fluorescent molecules are usually constituted by one or more 6-carbon rings that can easily also simply adsorb on the surface of the CNTs. This non-covalent binding could lead to the desorption of the fluorophore once the CNTs reach the complex chemical environment of a living cell or organism. Therefore, the fluorescence data could lead to wrong information about the CNTs location. Therefore, it is fundamental to understand the grafting mechanisms in order to estimate the efficiency of the covalent functionalization of the CNTs as well as the amount of simply adsorbed fluorophores. Of course, the impact of such a question clearly exceeds the field of the health and the environment, because the functionalization of CNTs is a key for their application is Materials Science in general. In order to answer to these questions, we chose to study the functionalization of Double-Walled carbon Nanotubes (DWNTs) with two different fluorophores, the Fluorescein Isothiocyanate (FITC) and the STREPTOcyanine 5Me(Net2)2. We used a three-step functionalization process to graft the fluorophores on highly-purified oxidized DWNTs. Finally, both the surface and the bulk of the sample have been investigated using two different spectroscopic techniques, the X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and the inelastic neutron scattering spectroscopy (INS). In addition to neutron techniques we also used computational techniques such as Density Functional Theory (DFT) calculations for a better analysis of our results. The results obtained by means of this two powerful techniques highlighted that, although the fluorescent markers is always considered to be strongly bonded onto carbon nanotubes when using a covalent strategy, a non-negligible part may in fact be only adsorbed, even after thorough washings in appropriate solvents. This is likely, in the particular field of toxicology, to lead to a release of the fluorescent marker at some point along the journey of the nanoparticle throughout the cells or the whole organism, and thus to partially wrong conclusions in terms of their fate in terms of biodistribution, accumulation or excretion.
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Thomas Lorne. Contribution of inelastic neutron scattering to the characterization of the grafting of fluorophores onto double-walled carbon nanotubes. Materials. Université Paul Sabatier - Toulouse III, 2017. English. ⟨NNT : 2017TOU30363⟩. ⟨tel-02286196⟩

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