Nanometre-scale thermometry in a living cell

Nature. 2013 Aug 1;500(7460):54-8. doi: 10.1038/nature12373.


Sensitive probing of temperature variations on nanometre scales is an outstanding challenge in many areas of modern science and technology. In particular, a thermometer capable of subdegree temperature resolution over a large range of temperatures as well as integration within a living system could provide a powerful new tool in many areas of biological, physical and chemical research. Possibilities range from the temperature-induced control of gene expression and tumour metabolism to the cell-selective treatment of disease and the study of heat dissipation in integrated circuits. By combining local light-induced heat sources with sensitive nanoscale thermometry, it may also be possible to engineer biological processes at the subcellular level. Here we demonstrate a new approach to nanoscale thermometry that uses coherent manipulation of the electronic spin associated with nitrogen-vacancy colour centres in diamond. Our technique makes it possible to detect temperature variations as small as 1.8 mK (a sensitivity of 9 mK Hz(-1/2)) in an ultrapure bulk diamond sample. Using nitrogen-vacancy centres in diamond nanocrystals (nanodiamonds), we directly measure the local thermal environment on length scales as short as 200 nanometres. Finally, by introducing both nanodiamonds and gold nanoparticles into a single human embryonic fibroblast, we demonstrate temperature-gradient control and mapping at the subcellular level, enabling unique potential applications in life sciences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Survival
  • Color
  • Fibroblasts / cytology*
  • Gold
  • Humans
  • Metal Nanoparticles / chemistry*
  • Nanodiamonds / chemistry*
  • Nanotechnology / instrumentation
  • Nitrogen
  • Single-Cell Analysis
  • Temperature
  • Thermometers*
  • Thermometry / instrumentation*
  • Thermometry / methods*


  • Nanodiamonds
  • Gold
  • Nitrogen