Relative humidity sensors based on an environment-sensitive fluorophore in hydrogel films

John C. Tellis, Elizabethtown College
Christopher A. Strulson, Elizabethtown College
Matthew M. Myers, Elizabethtown College
Kristi A. Kneas, Elizabethtown College


A fluorescence-based sensing scheme exploiting an environment-sensitive fluorophore embedded in a hydrogel has been developed for measurement of relative humidity (RH). The fluorophore, dapoxyl sulfonic acid (DSA), is incorporated into two different hydrogel films, agarose and a copolymer of acrylamide and 2-(dimethylamino)ethyl methacrylate (DMAEM) cross-linked with N,N'-methylenebisacrylamide. The swelling and contracting of the hydrogels in response to relative humidity alters the polarity of the environment of DSA, stimulating a shift in the emission wavelength. From 0 to 100% RH, acrylamide-DMAEM sensors exhibited a 40 and 15 nm wavelength shift in still air and flowing gas, respectively. Agarose sensors showed a 40 nm wavelength shift from 0 to 100% RH in still air and a 30 nm shift from 0 to 70% RH in flowing gas. Response times for both sensors were 15 min in still air and less than 5 min in flowing gas. The sensing approach is straightforward and cost-effective, yields sensors with characteristics suitable for commercial measurement of RH (i.e., sensitivity, response times, reproducibility), and allows ease of adaptability to specific RH measurement requirements. The results support the potential extension of the method to a wide variety of analytes in the vapor phase and aqueous solution by incorporation of functionalized "smart" hydrogels. © 2010 American Chemical Society.