Ultrasmall gold atom clusters (<2 nm in diameter) or gold nanoclusters exhibit emergent photonic properties (near-infrared absorption and emission) compared to larger plasmonic gold particles because of the significant quantization of their conduction band. Although single gold nanocluster properties and applications are being increasingly investigated, little is still known about their behavior and properties when assembled into suprastructures, and even fewer studies are investigating their use for biomedical applications. Here, a simple synthetic pathway combines gold nanoclusters with thermosensitive diblock copolymers of poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) and poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAm) to form a new class of gold-polymer, micelle-forming, hybrid nanoparticle. The nanohybrids’ design is uniquely centered on enabling the temperature-dependent self-assembly of gold nanoclusters into the hydrophobic cores of micelles. This nonbulk assembly not only preserves but also enhances the attractive near-infrared photonics of the gold nanoclusters by significantly increasing their native fluorescent signal. In parallel to the fundamental insights into gold nanocluster ordering and assembly, the gold-polymer nanohybrids also demonstrated great potential as fluorescent live-imaging probes in vitro. This innovative material design based on the temperature-dependent, self-assembly of gold nanoclusters within a polymeric micelle’s core shows great promise toward bioassays, nanosensors, and nanomedicine.
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