Copper ions play a vital role in a variety of fundamental physiological processes not only in human beings and plants, but also for extensive insects and microorganisms. In this paper, a novel water-soluble ruthenium(II) complex as a turn-on copper(II) ions luminescent sensor based on o-(phenylazo)aniline was designed and synthesized. The azo group would undergo a specific oxidative cyclization reaction with copper(II) ions and turn into high luminescent benzotriazole, triggering significant luminescent increasements which were linear to the concentrations of copper(II) ions. The sensor distinguished by its high sensitivity (over 80-fold luminescent switch-on response), good selectivity (the changes of the emission intensity in the presence of other metal ions or amino acids were negligible) and low detection limit (4.42 nM) in water. Moreover, the copper(II) luminescent sensor exhibited good photostability under light irradiation. Furthermore, the applicability of the proposed sensor in biological samples assay was also studied and imaged copper(II) ions in living pea aphids successfully.
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