We present hybrid films consisting of a composite prepared from polystyrene (PS) and titanium dioxide (titania; TiO2) and molecularly imprinted with 1-pyrenebutyric acid (PBA). The interaction of PBA with the polymer is shown to occur via binding of the carboxylic group to TiO2 and hydrophobic interaction of the pyrene moiety with the PS network. We investigated the effects of the PS fraction on morphology, imprinting properties, and guest binding. The template could be completely removed by incubating the films in an acetonitrile solution of pyrene, which is due to the stronger pi-pi interaction between PBA and pyrene than the interaction between PBA and its binding site. A guest binding study with pyrene, 1-aminopyrene, pyrenemethanol, and anthracene-9-carboxylic acid showed that the hybrid films possessed selectivity and much higher binding capacity for PBA. This study demonstrates the first case of clear PS-assisted imprinting, where the pi-pi interaction of the template with a linear (non-crosslinked) polymer creates selective binding sites and enhances the binding capacity. This is a driving force for guest binding in addition to the interaction of the template/analyte with TiO2. All molecularly imprinted films displayed better binding, repeatability and reversibility compared to the respective non-imprinted films.
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