Chemosensors detect a single target molecule from among several molecules, but cannot differentiate targets from one another. In this study, we report a molecular decoding strategy in which a single host domain accommodates a class of molecules and distinguishes between them with a corresponding readout. We synthesized the decoding host by embedding naphthalenediimide into the scaffold of an entangled porous framework that exhibited structural dynamics due to the dislocation of two chemically non-interconnected frameworks. An intense turn-on emission was observed on incorporation of a class of aromatic compounds, and the resulting luminescent colour was dependent on the chemical substituent of the aromatic guest. This unprecedented chemoresponsive, multicolour luminescence originates from an enhanced naphthalenediimide–aromatic guest interaction because of the induced-fit structural transformation of the entangled framework. We demonstrate that the cooperative structural transition in mesoscopic crystal domains results in a nonlinear sensor response to the guest concentration.
Distinguishing closely related molecules using chemosensor materials is a continuing challenge. Here, an entangled porous coordination polymer is developed, which confines volatile organic compounds, and allows photoluminescence-based distinction of structurally similar aromatic molecules.