EU Nanodetector Project Innovative Method to Measure single Nanoparticles

Professor Dr. Mirsky (Department of Nanobiotechnology) is working alongside experts from six European countries on the Nanodetector project (Ultrasensitive plasmonic detection of single nanoparticles), developing a novel measurement technology for highly sensitive detection of nanoparticles. The technology is based on advanced surface plasmon microscopy.

As well as coordinating the EU project, his group is carrying out research on the development of algorithms for recognition and quantification of images of nanoparticles, formation of sensor surfaces for selective binding of defined nanoparticles and application of this technology for detection, identification and quantification of nanoparticles in different media. To this end, the thin gold layer of the sensor is coated with various substances possessing different affinity to nanoparticles. The following coating strategies are used:

  • specific coatings for defined nanoparticles
  • structured coating for simultaneous binding of various nanoparticles
  • biomimetic surfaces to study the toxicity of synthetic nanoparticles

The surface plasmon resonance is based on collective oscillations of electrons initiated by laser light in the thin gold layer. Binding of nanoparticles onto this layer disturbs resonance conditions and leads to formation of optical signal which can be detected by video camera.

Natural and engineered nanoparticles

Nanoparticles are a heterogeneous group of particles with sizes in the nanometer range and can be both of natural and artificial origin. Natural nanoparticles are, for example, viruses or ultrafine dust from volcanic eruptions or forest fires. Engineered nanoparticles are often used to improve the material properties or performance of industrial products or for the targeted transfer of drugs in the body. The growing use of engineered nanoparticles requires the development of reliable, sensitive measuring methods to control their distribution in the environment or in the workplace and to identify the risk potential.

The development of such an analysis device requires the complex interaction of various applied disciplines. The measuring principle was first discovered as an optical phenomenon. The development of the theory to this effect and the modelling confirmed and explained the experimental results and led to the further development of plasmonic theory but also to predictions about the potential of technology – which performance parameters can be achieved and what information about the nanoparticles are included in the measured values.

Current Status of the Project

The experimental results of the new measurement technology were theoretically explained and confirmed. Experts in optics, microfluidics, sensor surface fabrication and coating, electronics and software have developed a reliably functioning and high-sensitivity prototype providing detection of different types of nanoparticles and visualization of their interaction with sensor surface. The software for analysis of experimental results as well as for managing and controlling the device is being developed. After three years of development, the laboratory prototype is now ready for testing and optimization. As potential users of the new technology, nanoparticle manufacturers are testing the device in the industry and creating standard operating procedures to determine the concentration of nanoparticles in the workplace.

The joint project has duration of 3.5 years (1 June 2012 to 30 November 2015).