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Functionalised nanoparticles for biological imaging across the scales

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Nanoparticles have been used as labels for imaging in Biology for more than half a century, starting in the 1950s with the use of gold colloids as contrast agent in electron microscopy. The landscape changed fundamentally from the 1990s with the development of a huge and continuously expanding collection of materials which differ by their sizes, shapes, elemental composition and surface properties. The surface chemistry of nanoparticles is a critical factor in all of these applications. I will summarize our efforts to prepare and control gold nanoparticles which have a number of surface features analogous to proteins. I will focus on three types of nanoparticles: sperical and rod-shaped gold, and, superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles. In addition to their high electron density providing contrast in electron microscopy, gold particles have a plasmon band leading to a strong absorbance, in the visible for spheres, and in the infrared for rods. This property can be harnessed for detection of single sherical particle of a few nanometres in live cells leading to applications in single molecule tracking and imaging using an optical microscopy technique known as photothermal imaging. The nanorods absorption in the IR makes them an excellent contrast agent for imaging in animals using photoacoustic detection. Iron oxide nanoparticles are also contrast agents for animal (and human) imaging using MRI . I will give examples of ongoing biological applications of inorganic nanoparticles for single molecule imaging in cells, and cell tracking in animals.

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