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Gold nanoparticle improves sensitivity of SPR sensors

Posted: 06 Jun 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SPR sensor? surface plasmon resonance? gold nanoparticle?

A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology researchers have improved the sensitivity of a sensor that depends on reflected light to analyse biomedical and chemical samples as a result of a carpet of gold nanoparticles. According to the scientists, they have determined the ideal size of nanoparticle to improve surface plasmon resonance (SPR) sensors.

Xia Yu, along with her students and colleagues, said that such sensors contain a prism with one face covered in a thin film of gold. As laser light shines through the prism, it mostly reflects off the gold into a detector. However, if the light hits the gold at a particular angle, some of it couples with electrons in the metal to produce electromagnetic waves called surface plasmon polaritons. Stronger coupling leads to less light being reflected towards the detector.

When a liquid sample flows across the gold film, it changes the refractive index in that region and slightly alters the angle at which the light arrives at the metal. This hampers the formation of polaritons meaning that more of the light is reflected towards the detector. Varying the angle of the laser beam and monitoring the intensity of the reflected light reveals the composition of samples flowing over the metal surface.

Other researchers have shown that gold nanoparticles can enhance the sensor's responsiveness. Incoming light sparks localized plasmon resonances around the nanoparticles that couple to the sensor surface, which causes larger changes in the intensity of the reflected light. This makes the device more sensitive to the light's angle of arrival and therefore able to detect lower concentrations of the chemicals being tested.

Yu's team calculated the optical responses of four different gold nanoparticlesranging in diameter from 40-80nmdetermining that they would be most effective when held about 5nm above the gold surface. The researchers then mounted the different nanoparticles onto gold films using a sulphur-containing molecule called dithiothreitol, which provided the optimum 5nm gap.

The team's calculations had suggested that the electric field of the surface plasmon polaritons would be hundreds of times greater when 40nm particles were added to the surface. "The stronger the electric field, the more sensitive the sensors," noted Yu. Tests using different concentrations of glycerin and formamide solutions confirmed that the 40nm particles did offer the greatest increase in sensitivity. "The detection limit is at least three orders of magnitude higher than current commercial SPR sensors," added Yu.

Yu hopes to apply this discovery to ultrasensitive sensors that can detect traces of cancer biomarkers.

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