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Rice develops nanosensor for precision chemical analysis

HOUSTON--JAN. 13, 2002 -- Nanotechnology researchers at Rice University have demonstrated the ability to precisely control the electromagnetic field around nanoparticles, opening the door for chemical screening techniques that could allow doctors, life scientists and chemists to routinely analyze samples as small as a single molecule.

The research is detailed in the current issue of Applied Physics Letters. It builds upon a widely used method of molecular analysis called Raman spectroscopy and capitalizes on the tunable optical properties of metal nanoshells, a novel type of nanoparticle invented at Rice.

"This result is extremely important because it is the first time that anyone has actually designed and engineered a nanosensor specifically for obtaining chemical information," said nanoshell inventor Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "There are widespread applications for this technology in environmental science, chemistry and biosensing, and it may have very important applications in the early detection of cancer."

Scientists commonly use spectroscopy to discern detailed information about everything from distant galaxies to individual molecules. By studying the spectrum of light that an object emits, scientists can decipher which elements are present in the sample, and in some cases, how those elements relate to one another. Raman spectroscopy, in particular, allows scientists to observe the vibrational states of molecules, giving clues about where and how much molecules bend, for example, and serves as a "fingerprint" for the identification of specific molecules that may be of interest, such as environmental contaminants or chemical or biological toxins.

Scientists have long known that they could boost the Raman light emissions from a sample by a million times or more by placing the sample next to small particles of metal called colloids. Scientists have even observed single molecu
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Contact: Jade Boyd
jadeboyd@rice.edu
713-348-6778
Rice University
10-Jan-2003


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