Scaling up nanoparticle sensors based on optical microcavities
PI: Jason Smith
Nanoparticles (NPs) are widespread in research ranging across medical, physical, biological, chemical and environmental sciences, and are increasingly important in industrial applications and processes. Many of these applications involve nanoparticles suspended in a fluid environment, and so there is a considerable and growing market for instruments that can detect and characterise nanoparticles in fluids.
Prof Smith’s team has recently developed unique NP sensors capable of trapping and characterization of single NPs using optical microcavities, a structure formed by reflecting faces on two sides of a cavity that can be as small as a few micrometres thick. The closest competing technology is Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis (NTA), a technique developed by Nanosight in 2002, which is one of a handful of techniques for analysing single nanoparticles in a liquid solution. Importantly, none of the existing techniques can extract any anisotropic properties (those which vary in magnitude according to the direction of measurement); this is essential for a range of applications such as nanotoxicity, drug delivery or virus characterization. The new microcavity-based technique can naturally access the anisotropic properties of NPs so that shape measurement of NPs in fluids constitutes a key value proposition for commercialisation of this technology.
The group is pursuing this work in partnership with a leading nanoparticle analysis company. The team has obtained first proof-of-principle data and is now looking towards the construction of a prototype instrument. However before this construction begins there is an important question of scalability to address. Successful usage of the prototype will require an instrument throughput of some 1000 nanoparticles per hour so that statistical data can be retrieved, and current experiments achieve only about 20 nanoparticles per hour. This project proposes to address this challenge and thereby move the technology closer to venture capital investment and commercialisation.