Hydrophilic semiconductor quantum dots (QDs) with emission in the second near-infrared window (NIR-II) have been widely studied in bioimaging applications. In such cases, QDs are usually dispersed in water. As is known, water has strong absorbance in the NIR-II region. However, investigations on the interaction between NIR-II emitters and water molecules are ignored in previous studies. Herein, we synthesized a series of mercaptoundecanoic acid-coated silver sulfide (Ag2S/MUA) QDs with various emissions that partially or completely overlapped with the absorbance of water at 1200 nm. By constructing a hydrophobic interface of cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTAB) with MUA on the Ag2S QDs surface via forming an ionic bond, significant enhancement of Ag2S QDs photoluminescence (PL) intensity was observed, as well as a prolonged lifetime. These findings suggest that there is an energy transfer between Ag2S QDs and water in addition to the classical resonance absorption. Transient absorption and fluorescence spectra results revealed that the increased PL intensities and lifetime of Ag2S QDs originated from the suppressed energy transfer from Ag2S QDs to the water due to the CTAB bridged hydrophobic interfaces. This discovery is important for a deeper understanding of the photophysical mechanisms of QDs and their applications.

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