Strain-tuned quantum dots can be made that emit light at wavelengths in the near-infrared range while remaining small in size. Near-infrared wavelengths around 750 nanometers represent a "clear window" where the human body is relatively transparent, says Andrew Smith, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in Nie's group and the first author of the paper.
While the newer strain-tuned quantum dots have not been tested in living animals or people, they could probably pass through the kidneys, meaning less toxicity, if they are less than five nanometers in diameter, Smith remarks.
"Using near-infrared wavelengths, there's less difficulty in seeing through the body's tissues," he continues. "Older quantum dots that emit in the near-infrared range are rod-shaped and large enough to get trapped in the kidneys, while smaller particles can both clear the kidneys and have less of a tendency to bind proteins in the blood."
"Core-shell nanocrystals are all expected to have some lattice mismatch between the core and the shell, so the strain effect is a general phenomenon," Nie says. "But this effect was not well understood in the past, and was often not taken into consideration. Our work shows that lattice strain is another key factor that must be considered, in addition to particle size and composition."
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