Mesoporous Silica Beads Embedded with Semiconductor Quantum Dots and Iron Oxide Nanocrystals: Dual-Function Microcarriers for Optical Encoding and Magnetic Separation
Mesoporous beads are promising materials for embedding functional nanoparticles because of their nanometer-sized pores and large surface areas. Here we report the development of silica microbeads embedded with both semiconductor quantum dots (QD) and iron oxide (Fe3O4) nanocrystals as a new class of dual-function carriers for optical encoding and magnetic separation. The embedding (doping) process is carried out by either simultaneous or sequential addition of quantum dots and iron oxide (Fe3O4) nanocrystals in solution. The doping process is fast and quantitative, but the incorporated iron oxide strongly attenuates the signal intensity of QD fluorescence. We find that this attenuation is not due to conventional fluorescence quenching but is caused by the broad optical absorption spectrum of mixed-valence Fe3O4. For improved biocompatibility and reduced nonspecific binding, the encoded beads are further coated with amphiphilic polymers such as octylamine poly(acrylic acid). The results indicate that the polymer-coated beads are well suited for target capturing and enrichment, yielding magnetic separation efficiencies higher than 99%. By combining the multiplexing capability of QDs with the superparamagnetic properties of iron oxide nanocrystals, this class of encoded beads is expected to find broad applications in high-throughput and multiplexed biomolecular assays.