We present dye-doped polymer nanoparticles that are able to detect mercury in aqueous solution at parts per billion levels via fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET). The nanoparticles are prepared by reprecipitation of highly fluorescent conjugated polymers in water and are stable in aqueous suspension. They are doped with rhodamine spirolactam dyes that are nonfluorescent until they encounter mercury ions, which promote an irreversible reaction that converts the dyes to fluorescent rhodamines. The rhodamine dyes act as FRET acceptors for the fluorescent nanoparticles, and the ratio of nanoparticle-to-rhodamine fluorescence intensities functions as a ratiometric fluorescence chemodosimeter for mercury. The light harvesting capability of the conjugated polymer nanoparticles enhances the fluorescence intensity of the rhodamine dyes by a factor of 10, enabling sensitive detection of mercury ions in water at levels as low as 0.7 parts per billion.
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