Nanopillars yield higher-resolution molecular photography

April 11, 2011

Interface of cell (blue) and nanopillar shows cell membranes wrapped around the pillar (credit: Stanford University)

Stanford University researchers have created a cellular research platform that uses quartz nanopillars that glow in such a way as to allow biologists, neurologists and other researchers a deeper, more precise look into living cells.

The field of light surrounding the glowing nanopillars — known as the “evanescence wave” — dies out within about 150 nanometers of the pillar, achieving a light source smaller than the wavelength of visible light.

The Stanford researchers estimate that they have shrunk the observation volume to one-tenth the size of previous methods.

The Stanford nanopillar imaging technique is particularly promising in cellular studies because it’s non-invasive, the nanopillars essentially pin the cells in place over time, and by modifying the chemistry on the surface of the nanopillars the researchers could attract specific molecules they want to observe.

A scanning electron microscope image of a cell grown over and interacting with nanopillars, indicated by arrows (credit: Stanford University)