One of the problems with nanoparticles is that, well, they’re just so small, making them difficult to study. Researchers may have solved that problem by building an instrument that can detect nanoparticles as small as tens of nanometers (billionths of a meter). The research team was led by Dr. Andrew Cleland, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and included Sanford-Burnham’s Dr. Erkki Ruoslahti. The study was published on March 7 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Prior to this research, counting nanoparticles with any precision was a difficult task, as previous devices lacked either speed, accuracy or both. The new instrument works by constricting the flow of the nanoparticles, somewhat like a turnstile, and then using a sensor to count them. It can count as many as 500,000 particles per second. The instrument measures the volume of each nanoparticle for rapid and precise size analysis of complex mixtures. Surprisingly, the researchers showed that the instrument could even detect virus particles in mouse blood plasma, and that mouse blood plasma contains many other nanoparticles.
The new instrument could have a wide variety of applications, as nanoparticles are being used in biomedicine, photovoltaics, cosmetics and many other areas.
Fraikin JL, Teesalu T, McKenney CM, Ruoslahti E, & Cleland AN (2011). A high-throughput label-free nanoparticle analyser. Nature nanotechnology PMID: 21378975
Dr. Jean-Luc Fraikin explains the new technology.