Spatially Controlled UV Light Generation at Depth Using Upconversion Micelles



Ultraviolet (UV) light can trigger a plethora of useful photochemical reactions for diverse applications, including photocatalysis, photopolymerization, and drug delivery. These applications typically require penetration of high energy photons deep into materials, yet delivering these photons beyond the surface is extremely challenging due to absorption and scattering effects. Triplet-triplet annihilation upconversion (TTA-UC) shows great promise to circumvent this issue by generating high energy photons from incident lower energy photons. However, molecules that facilitate TTA-UC usually have poor water solubility, limiting their deployment in aqueous environments. To address this challenge, we leverage a nanoencapsulation method to fabricate water-compatible UC micelles, enabling on-demand UV photon generation deep into materials. We present two iridium-based complexes for use as TTA-UC sensitizers with increased solubilities that facilitate the formation of highly emissive UV-upconverting micelles. Furthermore, we show this encapsulation method is generalizable to nineteen UV-emitting UC systems, accessing a range of upconverted UV emission profiles with wavelengths as low as 350 nm. As a proof-of-principle demonstration of precision photochemistry at depth, we use UV-emitting UC micelles to photolyze a fluorophore at a focal point nearly a centimeter beyond the surface, revealing opportunities for spatially controlled manipulation deep into UV-responsive materials.