Polymer Microgels:  Reactors for Semiconductor, Metal, and Magnetic Nanoparticles

We report a strategy for the production of materials with structural hierarchy. The approach employs polymer microgels as templates for the synthesis of semiconductor, metal, or magnetic nanoparticles (NPs). We show that NPs with predetermined dimensions and size-dependent properties can be synthesized by using a very delicate balance between the reaction conditions, the composition and the structure of microgel templates, and the concentration of NPs in the microgel. Postheat treatment of microgels doped with semiconductor nanoparticles reduces NP polydispersity and allows control of their photoluminescence. Microgel templates are particularly beneficial in the synthesis of polymer microspheres heavily loaded with monodisperse superparamagnetic Fe3O4 NPs. Hybrid submicrometer-size microgels have promising potential applications in photonics, catalysis, and separation technologies.