2-Thienylbenzimidazole (TBI)/cucurbituril (CB7) host–guest complex was used as a motif to significantly improve the turnover of γ-Fe3O4 magnetic nanoparticles for potential application in the separation of toxic mercuric ions in polluted water samples. The mechanism of restoring the original solid materials is based on applying the pH-controlled preferential binding of the CB7 host to the TBI guest. The analytical application of this concept has not been realized in the literature. The pH-controlled stimuli-responsive abilities were confirmed in aqueous solution by the three-order of magnitudes higher stability constant of the protonated TBIH +/CB7 complex (e.g., K = 4.8 × 108 M−1) when compared to neutral TBI/CB7 complex (e.g., K = 2.4 × 105 M−1), also manifested in an increase in pK a values by ~ 3.3 units in the ground state. The supramolecular interaction and adsorption on iron oxide nanoparticles (NPs) were also spectroscopically confirmed in the solid state. The excited-state lifetime values of TBI/CB7NPs increased upon lowering the pH values (e.g., from 0.6 to 1.3 ns) with a concomitant blue shift of ~ 25 nm because of polarity effects. The time-resolved photoluminescent behaviors of the final solids in the presence of CB7 ensured pH-driven reusable systems for capturing toxic mercuric ions. The study offers a unique approach for the controllable separation of mercury ions using an external magnet and in response to pH through preferential binding of the host to guest molecules on the top of magnetic surfaces.
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