HOUSTON (Jan. 3, 2013) Plasmonic gold nanoparticles make pinpoint heating on demand possible. Now Rice University researchers have found a way to selectively heat diverse nanoparticles that could advance their use in medicine and industry.
Rice scientists led by Dmitri Lapotko and Ekaterina Lukianova-Hleb showed common gold nanoparticles, known since the 19th century as gold colloids, heat up at near-infrared wavelengths as narrow as a few nanometers when hit by very short pulses of laser light. The surprising effect reported in Advanced Materials appears to be related to nonstationary optical excitation of plasmonic nanoparticles. Plasmons are free electrons on the surface of metals that become excited by the input of energy, typically from light. Moving plasmons can transform optical energy into heat.
"The key idea with gold nanoparticles and plasmonics in general is to convert energy," Lapotko said. "There are two aspects to this: One is how efficiently you can convert energy, and here gold nanoparticles are world champions. Their optical absorbance is about a million times higher than any other molecules in nature.
"The second aspect is how precisely one can use laser radiation to make this photothermal conversion happen," he said. Particles traditionally respond to wide spectra of light, and not much of it is in the valuable near-infrared region. Near-infrared light is invisible to water and, more critically for biological applications, to tissue.
"This was the problem," Lapotko said. "All nanoparticles, beginning with solid gold colloids and moving to more sophisticated, engineered gold nanoshells, nanorods, cages and stars, have very wide spectra, typically about 100 nanometers, which means we were allowed to use only one type of nanoparticle at a time. If we tried to use different types, their spectra overlapped and we did not benefit from the high tunability of lasers."
The discovery allows
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