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Optical Properties and Biological Applications of Electromagnetically Coupled Metal Nanoparticles


The optical properties of metallic particles change dramatically as the size shrinks to the nanoscale. The familiar mirror-like sheen of bulk metals is replaced by the bright, sharp, colorful plasmonic resonances of nanoparticles. The resonances of plasmonic metal nanoparticles are highly tunable throughout the visible spectrum, depending on the size, shape, local dielectric environment, and proximity to other optical resonances. Fundamental and applied research in the nanoscience community in the past few decades has sought to understand and exploit these phenomena for biological applications.

In this work, discrete nanoparticle assemblies were produced through biomolecular interactions and studied at the single particle level with darkfield spectroscopy. Pairs of gold nanoparticles tethered by DNA were utilized as molecular rulers to study the dynamics of DNA bending by the restriction enzyme EcoRV. These results substantiated that nanoparticle rulers, deemed "plasmon rulers", could measure the dynamics of single biomolecules with high throughput, long lifetime, and high temporal resolution.

To extend these concepts for live cell studies, a plasmon ruler comprised of peptide-linked gold nanoparticle satellites around a core particle was synthesized and utilized to optically follow cell signaling pathways in vivo at the single molecule level. The signal provided by these plasmon rulers allowed continuous observation of caspase-3 activation at the single molecule level in living cells for over 2 hours, unambiguously identifying early stage activation of caspase-3 in apoptotic cells.

In the last section of this dissertation, an experimental and theoretical study of electomagnetic coupling in asymmetric metal nanoparticle dimers is presented. A "heterodimer" composed of a silver particle and a gold particle is observed to have a novel coupling between a plasmon mode (free electron oscillations) and an inter-band absorption process (bound electron transitions). The modes in such asymmetric "plasmonic molecules" are possibly characterized by unique spatial and spectral profiles, and polarization behavior, allowing one to tune the optical response of the nanostructure in the near and far fields.

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