Called BRIGHTs, the tiny probes described in the online issue of Advanced Materials on Nov. 15, bind to biomarkers of disease and, when swept by an infrared laser, light up to reveal their location.
Tiny as they are, the probes are exquisitely engineered objects: gold nanoparticles covered with molecules called Raman reporters, in turn covered by a thin shell of gold that spontaneously forms a dodecahedron.
The Raman reporters are molecules whose jiggling atoms respond to a probe laser by scattering light at characteristic wavelengths.
The shell and core create an electromagnetic hotspot in the gap between them that boosts the reporters' emission by a factor of nearly a trillion.
BRIGHTs shine about 1.7 x 1011 more brightly than isolated Raman reporters and about 20 times more intensely than the next-closest competitor probe, says Srikanth Singamaneni, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis.
Goosing the signal from Raman reporters
Singamaneni and his postdoctoral research associate Naveen Gandra, PhD, tried several different probe designs before settling on BRIGHTS.
Singamaneni's lab has worked for years with Raman spectroscopy, a spectroscopic technique that is used to study the vibrational modes (bending and stretching) of molecules. Laser light interacts with these modes and the molecule then emits light at higher or lower wavelengths that are characteristic of the molecule,
Spontaneous Raman scattering, as this phenomenon is called, is by nature very weak, but 30 years ago scientists accidently stumbled on the fact that it is much stronger if the molecules are adsorbed on roughened metallic surfaces. Then they discovered that molecules attached to metallic nanoparticles shine even brighter than those attached to rough surfaces.
|Contact: Diana Lutz|
Washington University in St. Louis