Nanotechnology refers to the practical applications of nanoscale particles to probe and control matter, energy and information at increasingly smaller scales. Having the ability to change matter and information at the nano scale has huge implications on the macro scale. For the Pharma industry, it represents a step change in the production of drugs, and for engineers it means applying big world knowledge to an invisible world.
An inexpensive near-field scanning optical microscope (NSOM) on a chip
Nano precise flow controlled probing integrates microfluidics with the accuracy and sensitivity of nanoscopic probes to provide a whole new level of imaging resolution. All that is required is a microscope, an easy to fabricate microfluidic device, and a supply of nanoprobes (e.g. quantum dots, nanobeads). The result is a robust and low-cost nano precise on-chip near-field probing instrument.
Background: The imaging resolution of light microscopes is limited to a micrometer by the wavelength of light. NSOMs (near-field scanning optical microscopes) enable nanoscale imaging by using nanoscale probes on the ends of mechanical tips that are scanned across samples. But NSOMs include costly and complex vibration isolation systems and sell for over $200,000, they require highly trained users, and their mechanical tips can interfere with the imaging thus limiting resolution to 50 – 100 nm in commercially available systems.
Innovation: We have replaced NSOM mechanics by precisely controlled fluid flow and created an NSOM on a chip. The chip creates the flow, the microscope visualizes the location of the nanoprobe to nanometer precision, and the intensity of the probe at each location yields the nano-resolved image. The end result is a simple and inexpensive accessory that gives a microscope the capabilities of an NSOM.
Utility: This accessory enables a microscope to achieve nano-resolved images at an additional cost of $200. The chip add-on system does not have complex vibration isolation and is simple to operate (it does not require a highly-trained user). It has achieved an imaging resolution of 10 nm, exceeding the performance of commercial NSOM systems by more than a factor of five, and can be further improved.
U.S. Patent 7,651,598 and U.S. Patent 8,110,083