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Single Nanowire Probe for Single Cell Endoscopy and Sensing


The ability to manipulate light in subwavelength photonic and plasmonic structures has shown great potentials in revolutionizing how information is generated, transformed and processed. Chemically synthesized nanowires, in particular, offers a unique toolbox not only for highly compact and integrated photonic modules and devices, including coherent and incoherent light sources, waveguides, photodetectors and photovoltaics, but also for new types of nanoscopic bio-probes for spot cargo delivery and in-situ single cell endoscopy and sensing. Such nanowire probes would enable us to carry out intracellular imaging and probing with high spatial resolution, monitor in-vivo biological processes within single living cells and greatly improve our fundamental understanding of cell functions, intracellular physiological processes, and cellular signal pathways. My work is aimed at developing a material and instrumental platform for such single nanowire probe.

Successful optical integration of Ag nanowire plasmonic waveguides, which offers deep subwavelength mode confinement, and conventional photonic waveguides was demonstrated on a single nanowire level. The highest plasmonic-photonic coupling efficiency coupling was found at small coupling angles and low input frequencies. The frequency dependent propagation loss was observed in Ag nanowire and was confirmed by quantitative measurement and in agreement with theoretical expectations. Rational integration of dielectric and Ag nanowire waveguide components into hybrid optical-plasmonic routing devices has been demonstrated. This capability is essential for incorporating sub-100nm Ag nanowire waveguides into optical fiber based nanoprobes for single cell endoscopy.

The nanoprobe system based on single nanowire waveguides was demonstrated by optically coupling semiconductor or metal nanowire with an optical fiber with tapered tip. This nanoprobe design requires minimal instrumentation which makes it cost efficient and readily adaptable to average bio-lab environment. These probes are mechanically robust and flexible and can withstand repeated bending and deformation without significant deterioration in optical performance, which offers an ideal instrumental platform for out subsequent effort of using these nanoprobes in chemical sensing as well as single cell endoscopy and spot delivery. Parameters affecting the coupling efficiency and output power of the nanoprobe were studied and chemical etched of single mode fiber with small cone angle was established to be optimized for highly effective optical nanoprobes.

The versatility of the nanoprobe design was first tested by transforming the nanowire probe into a pH sensor with near-field photopolymerization of a copolymer containing pH sensitive dye on the tip of the nanowire. The pH-sensitive nanoprobe was able to report the pH difference in micro-droplets containing buffer solution with the excitation of light waveguided on the nanoprobe with internal calibration, fast response time and good photostability and reversibility. Such nanoprobe sensors are ideal for high definition spatial and temporal sensing of concentration profile, especially for the kinetic processes in single cell studies for which chemical probes of minute sizes and fast response are desired.

The nanoprobe was then applied into spot cargo delivery and in-situ single cell endoscopy. It was demonstrated that nanowire-based optical probe can deliver payloads into the cell with a high spatiotemporal precision, guide and confine visible light into intracellular compartments selectively and detect optical signals from the subcellular regions with high spatial resolution. The nanoprobe was proven to be biocompatible and non-invasive. The effective optical coupling between the fiber optics and the nanowire enables highly localized excitation and detection, limiting the probe volume to the close proximity of the nanowire. None the less, this versatile technique does not rely on any expensive or bulky instrumentation, and relies only on micromanipulator and optical microscope that are readily available in most biological labs. The different functions can be further integrated to make the whole nanoprobe system more compact and even portable.

In addition, my research also includes the first demonstration of the synthesis of the longitudinal heterostructured SiO2/Al2O3 nanotubes and the nanofluidic diode device based on the discontinuity of their internal surface charge. Comprehensive characterization shows that the nanotubes has heterostructured inner tube walls, as well as a discontinuity of surface charge. The ionic transport through these nanotube heterojunctions exhibits clear current rectification, a signature of ionic diode behavior. The development of such nanofluidic devices would enable the modulation of ionic and molecular transport at a more sophisticated level, and lead to large-scale integrated nanofluidic networks and logic circuits.

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