Giant light-harvesting nanoantenna for single-molecule detection in ambient light

Nat Photonics. 2017 Oct;11(10):657-663. doi: 10.1038/s41566-017-0001-7. Epub 2017 Sep 29.


Here, we explore the enhancement of single molecule emission by polymeric nano-antenna that can harvest energy from thousands of donor dyes to a single acceptor. In this nano-antenna, the cationic dyes are brought together in very close proximity using bulky counterions, thus enabling ultrafast diffusion of excitation energy (≤30 fs) with minimal losses. Our 60-nm nanoparticles containing >10,000 rhodamine-based donor dyes can efficiently transfer energy to 1-2 acceptors resulting in an antenna effect of ~1,000. Therefore, single Cy5-based acceptors become 25-fold brighter than quantum dots QD655. This unprecedented amplification of the acceptor dye emission enables observation of single molecules at illumination powers (1-10 mW cm-2) that are >10,000-fold lower than typically required in single-molecule measurements. Finally, using a basic setup, which includes a 20X air objective and a sCMOS camera, we could detect single Cy5 molecules by simply shining divergent light on the sample at powers equivalent to sunlight.