Stanford Researchers Insert Light-Emitting Probes Inside Cells

Stanford Researchers Insert Light-Emitting Probes Inside Cells

5 March 2013

Stanford University researchers have developed light-emitting probes that are tiny enough to fit in a single cell without damaging it, BioOptics World reports.

Their work demonstrates that small complex devices like light resonators can be embedded inside cells without harming them and, even with resonators inside, cells are able to function, migrate and reproduce as normal.

The engineers dubbed their device a "nanobeam" due to its resemblance to a steel I-beam with a series of round holes etched through the center. The nanobeam is just a few microns in length and only a few hundred nanometers in width and thickness. The holes (or photonic cavities) through the beam focus and amplify light at the beam's center.

At the cellular level, the nanobeam penetrates the cell walls leaving them intact. After it is inserted into the cell the beam emits light, with research applications and implications spanning from fundamental physics to nanolasers and biosensors that could have profound effect on biological research, says the paper's senior author Jelena Vuckovic, a professor of electrical engineering.

Structurally, the new device is a sandwich of very thin layers of gallium arsenide alternated with similarly thin layers of quantum dots. The structure is carved out of chips or wafers. Once carved, the devices stay tethered to the thick substrate.