Aggregation-induced emission (AIE) luminogens are attractive dyes to probe polymer properties that depend on changes in chain mobility and free volume. When embedded in polymers the restriction of intramolecular motion (RIM) can lead to their photoluminescence quantum yield (PLQY) strong enhancement if local microviscosity increases (lowering of chain mobility and free volume). Nonetheless, measuring PLQY during stimuli, i.e. heat or mechanical stress, is technically challenging; thus, emission intensity is commonly used instead, assuming its direct correlation with the PLQY. Here, by using fluorescence lifetime as an absolute fluorescence parameter, it is demonstrated that this assumption can be invalid in many commonly encountered conditions. To this aim, different polymers are loaded with tetraphenylenethylene (TPE) and characterized during the application of thermal and mechanical stress and physical aging. Under these conditions, polymer matrix transparency variation is observed, possibly due to local changes in refractive index and to the formation of microfractures. By combining different characterization techniques, it is proved that scattering can affect the apparent emission intensity, while lifetime measurements can be used to ascertain whether the observed phenomenon is due to modifications of the photophysical properties of AIE dyes (RIM effect) or to alterations in the matrix optical properties.
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