One-Pot Microwave Synthesis of Water-Dispersible, High Fluorescence Silicon Nanoparticles and Their Imaging Applications in Vitro and in Vivo

Silicon nanoparticles (SiNPs) have been reported to be synthesized by microwave-assisted methods under high pressure. However, there is still a lack of knowledge about the synthesis of SiNPs via microwave-assisted methods under normal pressure. Here we developed a new, facile, one-pot microwave-assisted method for the synthesis SiNPs (∼4.2 nm) with excellent water solubility under normal pressure by employing glycerol as the solvent. Furthermore, glycerol might be responsible for the photoluminescence quantum yield (PLQY) value up to 47% for the resultant SiNPs. The use of organic solvent could afford less nanoparticle surface defects compared with those prepared in aqueous solution, thus improving the fluorescent efficiency. The as-prepared SiNPs simultaneously featured bright blue-green fluorescence, long lifetime (∼12.8 ns), obvious up-conversion luminescence originating from two-photon absorption, superbly strong photostability, and favorable low toxicity. As a satisfactory probe, the as-synthesized SiNPs were successfully applied in fluorescence imaging of human cervical carcinoma cell lines (HeLa) and zebrafish.