Gel Trapping Enables Optical Spectroscopy of Single Solvated Conjugated Polymers in Equilibrium

De Laar, Ties Van; Hooiveld, Ellard; Higler, Ruben; Scheer, Pieter Van Der; Sprakel, Joris


Single-molecule studies have provided a wealth of insight into the photophysics of conjugated polymers in the solid and desolvated state. Desolvating conjugated chains, e.g., by their embedding in inert solid matrices, invariably leads to chain collapse and the formation of intermolecular aggregates, which have a pronounced effect on their properties. By contrast, the luminescent properties of individual semiconducting polymers in their solvated and thermodynamic state remain largely unexplored. In this paper, we demonstrate a versatile gel trapping technique that enables the chemistry-free immobilization and interrogation of individual conjugated macromolecules, which retain a fully equilibrated conformation by contrast to conventional solid-state immobilization methods. We show how the technique can be used to record full luminescence spectra of single chains, to evaluate their time-resolved fluorescence, and to probe their photodynamics. Finally, we explore how the photophysics of different conjugated polymers is strongly affected by desolvation and chain collapse.