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Nanoantenna Enhances Plasmonic Sensing

Photonics.com
May 2011
BERKELEY, Calif., May 24, 2011 — An experimental demonstration of antenna-enhanced gas sensing at the single-particle level has been reported for the first time. By placing a palladium nanoparticle on the focusing tip of a gold nanoantenna, researchers with the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Stuttgart in Germany, clearly detected changes in the palladium's optical properties upon exposure to hydrogen.

"We have demonstrated resonant antenna-enhanced single-particle-hydrogen sensing in the visible region and presented a fabrication approach to the positioning of a single palladium nanoparticle in the nanofocus of a gold nanoantenna," said Paul Alivisatos, Berkeley Lab's director and the leader of this research. "Our concept provides a general blueprint for amplifying plasmonic sensing signals at the single-particle level and should pave the road for the optical observation of chemical reactions and catalytic activities in nanoreactors, and for local biosensing."

Alivisatos, who is also the Larry and Diane Bock Professor of Nanotechnology at the University of California, Berkeley, is the corresponding author of a paper in the journal Nature Materials describing this research. Co-authors were Laura Na Liu, Ming Tang, Mario Hentschel and Harald Giessen.

Plasmonics — the confinement of electromagnetic waves in dimensions smaller than half the wavelength of the incident photons in free space — has emerged as a popular field in technology. Typically, the process is done at the interface between metallic nanostructures (usually gold) and a dielectric (usually air). The confinement of the electromagnetic waves in these metallic nanostructures generates electronic surface waves called "plasmons." A matching of the oscillation frequency between plasmons and the incident electromagnetic waves gives rise to a phenomenon known as localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR), which can concentrate the electromagnetic field into a volume less than a few hundred cubic nanometers. Any object brought into this locally confined field — referred to as the nanofocus — will influence the LSPR in a manner that can be detected via dark-field microscopy.


Top figure shows hydrogen molecules (red) absorbed on a palladium nanoparticle, resulting in weak light scattering and barely detectable spectral changes. Bottom figure shows gold antenna enhancing light scattering and producing an easy-to-detect spectral shift. (Images: Alivisatos group)

"Nanofocusing has immediate implications for plasmonic sensing," said Liu, who was formerly at UC Berkeley and is now at Rice University. "Metallic nanostructures with sharp corners and edges that form a pointed tip are especially favorable for plasmonic sensing because the field strengths of the electromagnetic waves are so strongly enhanced over such an extremely small sensing volume."

Plasmonic sensing is especially promising for the detection of flammable gases such as hydrogen, where the use of sensors that require electrical measurements pose safety issues because of the potential threat from sparking. Hydrogen, for example, can ignite or explode in concentrations of only 4 percent. Palladium was seen as a prime candidate for the plasmonic sensing of hydrogen because it readily and rapidly absorbs hydrogen that alters its electrical and dielectric properties. However, the LSPR of palladium nanoparticles yield broad spectral profiles that make detecting changes extremely difficult.

"In our resonant antenna-enhanced scheme, we use double electron-beam lithography in combination with a double liftoff procedure to precisely position a single palladium nanoparticle in the nanofocus of a gold nanoantenna," Liu said. "The strongly enhanced gold-particle plasmon near-fields can sense the change in the dielectric function of the proximal palladium nanoparticle as it absorbs or releases hydrogen. Light scattered by the system is collected by a dark-field microscope with attached spectrometer, and the LSPR change is read out in real time."


A scanning electron microscopy image shows a palladium nanoparticle with a gold antenna to enhance plasmonic sensing.

Alivisatos, Liu and their co-authors found that the antenna enhancement effect could be controlled by changing the distance between the palladium nanoparticle and the gold antenna and by changing the shape of the antenna.

"By amplifying sensing signals at the single-particle level, we eliminate the statistical and average characteristics inherent to ensemble measurements," Liu said. "Moreover, our antenna-enhanced plasmonic sensing technique comprises a noninvasive scheme that is biocompatible and can be used in aqueous environments, making it applicable to a variety of physical and biochemical materials."

For example, by replacing the palladium nanoparticle with other nanocatalysts, such as ruthenium, platinum or magnesium, Liu said their antenna-enhanced plasmonic sensing scheme can be used to monitor the presence of numerous other important gases besides hydrogen, including carbon dioxide and the nitrous oxides. This technique also offers a promising plasmonic sensing alternative to the fluorescence detection of catalysis, which depends upon the challenging task of finding appropriate fluorophores. Antenna-enhanced plasmonic sensing also holds potential for the observation of single chemical or biological events.

"We believe our antenna-enhanced sensing technique can serve as a bridge between plasmonics and biochemistry," Liu said. "Plasmonic sensing offers a unique tool for optically probing biochemical processes that are optically inactive in nature. In addition, because plasmonic nanostructures made from gold or silver do not bleach or blink, they allow for continuous observation, an essential capability for in situ monitoring of biochemical behavior."

For more information, visit: www.lbl.gov 


GLOSSARY
dark-field microscopy
A technique whereby the sample is illuminated by a hollow cone of light larger than the acceptance angle of the objective, so that only scattered light is seen, revealing any irregularities of the surface.
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