Rice nanophotonics experts create powerful molecular sensor

Rice's SECARS molecular sensor contains an optical amplifier made of four gold discs arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern. A two-coherent-laser setup amplifies the optical signatures of molecules in the center of the structure as much as 100 billion times. Credit: Y. Zhang/Rice University - See more at: http://news.rice.edu/2014/07/15/rice-nanophotonics-experts-create-powerful-molecular-sensor-2/#sthash.AzwnaRlw.dpuf

Nanophotonics experts at Rice University have created a unique sensor that amplifies the optical signature of molecules by about 100 billion times.

Newly published tests found the device could accurately identify the composition and structure of individual molecules containing fewer than 20 atoms.

The new imaging method, which is described this week in the journal Nature Communications, uses a form of Raman spectroscopy in combination with an intricate but mass reproducible optical amplifier. Researchers at Rice’s Laboratory for Nanophotonics (LANP) said the single-molecule sensor is about 10 times more powerful that previously reported devices.

Ours and other research groups have been designing single-molecule sensors for several years, but this new approach offers advantages over any previously reported method,” said LANP Director Naomi Halas, the lead scientist on the study. “The ideal single-molecule sensor would be able to identify an unknown molecule — even a very small one — without any prior information about that molecule’s structure or composition. That’s not possible with current technology, but this new technique has that potential.”

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