Colloidal Probe Nanoscopy (CPN), the study of the nano-scale interactive forces between a specifically prepared colloidal probe and any chosen substrate using the Atomic Force Microscope (AFM), can provide key insights into physical interactions present within colloidal systems. Colloidal systems are widely existent in several applications including, pharmaceuticals, foods, paints, paper, soil and minerals, detergents, printing and much more.1-3 Furthermore, colloids can exist in many states such as emulsions, foams and suspensions. Using colloidal probe nanoscopy one can obtain key information on the adhesive properties, binding energies and even gain insight into the physical stability and coagulation kinetics of the colloids present within. Additionally, colloidal probe nanoscopy can be used with biological cells to aid in drug discovery and formulation development. In this paper we describe a method for conducting colloidal probe nanoscopy, discuss key factors that are important to consider during the measurement, and show that both quantitative and qualitative data that can be obtained from such measurements.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Formulation of Diblock Polymeric Nanoparticles through Nanoprecipitation Technique
Institutions: University of North Carolina School of Medicine, University of North Carolina .
Nanotechnology is a relatively new branch of science that involves harnessing the unique properties of particles that are nanometers in scale (nanoparticles). Nanoparticles can be engineered in a precise fashion where their size, composition and surface chemistry can be carefully controlled. This enables unprecedented freedom to modify some of the fundamental properties of their cargo, such as solubility, diffusivity, biodistribution, release characteristics and immunogenicity. Since their inception, nanoparticles have been utilized in many areas of science and medicine, including drug delivery, imaging, and cell biology1-4
. However, it has not been fully utilized outside of "nanotechnology laboratories" due to perceived technical barrier. In this article, we describe a simple method to synthesize a polymer based nanoparticle platform that has a wide range of potential applications.
The first step is to synthesize a diblock co-polymer that has both a hydrophobic domain and hydrophilic domain. Using PLGA and PEG as model polymers, we described a conjugation reaction using EDC/NHS chemistry5
(Fig 1). We also discuss the polymer purification process. The synthesized diblock co-polymer can self-assemble into nanoparticles in the nanoprecipitation process through hydrophobic-hydrophilic interactions.
The described polymer nanoparticle is very versatile. The hydrophobic core of the nanoparticle can be utilized to carry poorly soluble drugs for drug delivery experiments6. Furthermore, the nanoparticles can overcome the problem of toxic solvents for poorly soluble molecular biology reagents, such as wortmannin, which requires a solvent like DMSO. However, DMSO can be toxic to cells and interfere with the experiment. These poorly soluble drugs and reagents can be effectively delivered using polymer nanoparticles with minimal toxicity. Polymer nanoparticles can also be loaded with fluorescent dye and utilized for intracellular trafficking studies. Lastly, these polymer nanoparticles can be conjugated to targeting ligands through surface PEG. Such targeted nanoparticles can be utilized to label specific epitopes on or in cells7-10
Bioengineering, Issue 55, Nanoparticles, nanomedicine, drug delivery, polymeric micelles, polymeric nanoparticles, diblock co-polymers, nanoplatform, nanoparticle molecular imaging, polymer conjugation.
Harvesting Solar Energy by Means of Charge-Separating Nanocrystals and Their Solids
Institutions: Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green State University.
Conjoining different semiconductor materials in a single nano-composite provides synthetic means for the development of novel optoelectronic materials offering a superior control over the spatial distribution of charge carriers across material interfaces. As this study demonstrates, a combination of donor-acceptor nanocrystal (NC) domains in a single nanoparticle can lead to the realization of efficient photocatalytic1-5
materials, while a layered assembly of donor- and acceptor-like nanocrystals films gives rise to photovoltaic materials.
Initially the paper focuses on the synthesis of composite inorganic nanocrystals, comprising linearly stacked ZnSe, CdS, and Pt domains, which jointly promote photoinduced charge separation. These structures are used in aqueous solutions for the photocatalysis of water under solar radiation, resulting in the production of H2
gas. To enhance the photoinduced separation of charges, a nanorod morphology with a linear gradient originating from an intrinsic electric field is used5
. The inter-domain energetics are then optimized to drive photogenerated electrons toward the Pt catalytic site while expelling the holes to the surface of ZnSe domains for sacrificial regeneration (via methanol). Here we show that the only efficient way to produce hydrogen is to use electron-donating ligands to passivate the surface states by tuning the energy level alignment at the semiconductor-ligand interface. Stable and efficient reduction of water is allowed by these ligands due to the fact that they fill vacancies in the valence band of the semiconductor domain, preventing energetic holes from degrading it. Specifically, we show that the energy of the hole is transferred to the ligand moiety, leaving the semiconductor domain functional. This enables us to return the entire nanocrystal-ligand system to a functional state, when the ligands are degraded, by simply adding fresh ligands to the system4
To promote a photovoltaic charge separation, we use a composite two-layer solid of PbS and TiO2
films. In this configuration, photoinduced electrons are injected into TiO2
and are subsequently picked up by an FTO electrode, while holes are channeled to a Au electrode via PbS layer6
. To develop the latter we introduce a Semiconductor Matrix Encapsulated Nanocrystal Arrays
(SMENA) strategy, which allows bonding PbS NCs into the surrounding matrix of CdS semiconductor. As a result, fabricated solids exhibit excellent thermal stability, attributed to the heteroepitaxial structure of nanocrystal-matrix interfaces, and show compelling light-harvesting performance in prototype solar cells7
Physics, Issue 66, Materials Science, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Photovoltaics, nanorods, dye-sensitized, solids, titanium dioxide, photocatalysis, quantum dots
A Technique to Functionalize and Self-assemble Macroscopic Nanoparticle-ligand Monolayer Films onto Template-free Substrates
Institutions: Naval Research Laboratory.
This protocol describes a self-assembly technique to create macroscopic monolayer films composed of ligand-coated nanoparticles1,2
. The simple, robust and scalable technique efficiently functionalizes metallic nanoparticles with thiol-ligands in a miscible water/organic solvent mixture allowing for rapid grafting of thiol groups onto the gold nanoparticle surface. The hydrophobic ligands on the nanoparticles then quickly phase separate the nanoparticles from the aqueous based suspension and confine them to the air-fluid interface. This drives the ligand-capped nanoparticles to form monolayer domains at the air-fluid interface. The use of water-miscible organic solvents is important as it enables the transport of the nanoparticles from the interface onto template-free substrates. The flow is mediated by a surface tension gradient3,4
and creates macroscopic, high-density, monolayer nanoparticle-ligand films. This self-assembly technique may be generalized to include the use of particles of different compositions, size, and shape and may lead to an efficient assembly method to produce low-cost, macroscopic, high-density, monolayer nanoparticle films for wide-spread applications.
Chemistry, Issue 87, phase transfer, nanoparticle, self-assembly, bottom-up, fabrication, low-cost, monolayer, thin film, nanostructure, array, metamaterial
Controlling the Size, Shape and Stability of Supramolecular Polymers in Water
Institutions: Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Eindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven University of Technology.
For aqueous based supramolecular polymers, the simultaneous control over shape, size and stability is very difficult1
. At the same time, the ability to do so is highly important in view of a number of applications in functional soft matter including electronics, biomedical engineering, and sensors. In the past, successful strategies to control the size and shape of supramolecular polymers typically focused on the use of templates2,3
, end cappers4
or selective solvent techniques5
Here we disclose a strategy based on self-assembling discotic amphiphiles that leads to the control over stack length and shape of ordered, chiral columnar aggregates. By balancing electrostatic repulsive interactions on the hydrophilic rim and attractive non-covalent forces within the hydrophobic core of the polymerizing building block, we manage to create small and discrete spherical objects6,7
. Increasing the salt concentration to screen the charges induces a sphere-to-rod transition. Intriguingly, this transition is expressed in an increase of cooperativity in the temperature-dependent self-assembly mechanism, and more stable aggregates are obtained.
For our study we select a benzene-1,3,5-tricarboxamide (BTA) core connected to a hydrophilic metal chelate via a hydrophobic, fluorinated L-phenylalanine based spacer (Scheme 1
). The metal chelate selected is a Gd(III)-DTPA complex that contains two overall remaining charges per complex and necessarily two counter ions. The one-dimensional growth of the aggregate is directed by π-π stacking and intermolecular hydrogen bonding. However, the electrostatic, repulsive forces that arise from the charges on the Gd(III)-DTPA complex start limiting the one-dimensional growth of the BTA-based discotic once a certain size is reached. At millimolar concentrations the formed aggregate has a spherical shape and a diameter of around 5 nm as inferred from 1
H-NMR spectroscopy, small angle X-ray scattering, and cryogenic transmission electron microscopy (cryo-TEM). The strength of the electrostatic repulsive interactions between molecules can be reduced by increasing the salt concentration of the buffered solutions. This screening of the charges induces a transition from spherical aggregates into elongated rods with a length > 25 nm. Cryo-TEM allows to visualise the changes in shape and size. In addition, CD spectroscopy permits to derive the mechanistic details of the self-assembly processes before and after the addition of salt. Importantly, the cooperativity -a key feature that dictates the physical properties of the produced supramolecular polymers- increases dramatically upon screening the electrostatic interactions. This increase in cooperativity results in a significant increase in the molecular weight of the formed supramolecular polymers in water.
Chemical Engineering, Issue 66, Chemistry, Physics, Self-assembly, cryogenic transmission electron microscopy, circular dichroism, controlled architecture, discotic amphiphile
Whole-Body Nanoparticle Aerosol Inhalation Exposures
Institutions: West Virginia University , West Virginia University , National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Inhalation is the most likely exposure route for individuals working with aerosolizable engineered nano-materials (ENM). To properly perform nanoparticle inhalation toxicology studies, the aerosols in a chamber housing the experimental animals must have: 1) a steady concentration maintained at a desired level for the entire exposure period; 2) a homogenous composition free of contaminants; and 3) a stable size distribution with a geometric mean diameter < 200 nm and a geometric standard deviation σg
< 2.5 5
. The generation of aerosols containing nanoparticles is quite challenging because nanoparticles easily agglomerate. This is largely due to very strong inter-particle forces and the formation of large fractal structures in tens or hundreds of microns in size 6
, which are difficult to be broken up. Several common aerosol generators, including nebulizers, fluidized beds, Venturi aspirators and the Wright dust feed, were tested; however, none were able to produce nanoparticle aerosols which satisfy all criteria 5
A whole-body nanoparticle aerosol inhalation exposure system was fabricated, validated and utilized for nano-TiO2
inhalation toxicology studies. Critical components: 1) novel nano-TiO2
aerosol generator; 2) 0.5 m3
whole-body inhalation exposure chamber; and 3) monitor and control system. Nano-TiO2
aerosols generated from bulk dry nano-TiO2
powders (primary diameter of 21 nm, bulk density of 3.8 g/cm3
) were delivered into the exposure chamber at a flow rate of 90 LPM (10.8 air changes/hr). Particle size distribution and mass concentration profiles were measured continuously with a scanning mobility particle sizer (SMPS), and an electric low pressure impactor (ELPI). The aerosol mass concentration (C
) was verified gravimetrically (mg/m3
). The mass (M
) of the collected particles was determined as M = (Mpost-Mpre), where Mpre
are masses of the filter before and after sampling (mg
). The mass concentration was calculated as C = M/(Q*t),
is sampling flowrate (m3/min
is the sampling time (minute
). The chamber pressure, temperature, relative humidity (RH), O2
concentrations were monitored and controlled continuously. Nano-TiO2
aerosols collected on Nuclepore filters were analyzed with a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) analysis.
In summary, we report that the nano-particle aerosols generated and delivered to our exposure chamber have: 1) steady mass concentration; 2) homogenous composition free of contaminants; 3) stable particle size distributions with a count-median aerodynamic diameter of 157 nm during aerosol generation. This system reliably and repeatedly creates test atmospheres that simulate occupational, environmental or domestic ENM aerosol exposures.
Medicine, Issue 75, Physiology, Anatomy, Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Pharmacology, Titanium dioxide, engineered nanomaterials, nanoparticle, toxicology, inhalation exposure, aerosols, dry powder, animal model
Regioselective Biolistic Targeting in Organotypic Brain Slices Using a Modified Gene Gun
Institutions: University of Toronto, MRC-Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.
Transfection of DNA has been invaluable for biological sciences and with recent advances to organotypic brain slice preparations, the effect of various heterologous genes could thus be investigated easily while maintaining many aspects of in vivo
biology. There has been increasing interest to transfect terminally differentiated neurons for which conventional transfection methods have been fraught with difficulties such as low yields and significant losses in viability. Biolistic transfection can circumvent many of these difficulties yet only recently has this technique been modified so that it is amenable for use in mammalian tissues.
New modifications to the accelerator chamber have enhanced the gene gun's firing accuracy and increased its depths of penetration while also allowing the use of lower gas pressure (50 psi) without loss of transfection efficiency as well as permitting a focused regioselective spread of the particles to within 3 mm. In addition, this technique is straight forward and faster to perform than tedious microinjections. Both transient and stable expression are possible with nanoparticle bombardment where episomal expression can be detected within 24 hr and the cell survival was shown to be better than, or at least equal to, conventional methods. This technique has however one crucial advantage: it permits the transfection to be localized within a single restrained radius thus enabling the user to anatomically isolate the heterologous gene's effects. Here we present an in-depth protocol to prepare viable adult organotypic slices and submit them to regioselective transfection using an improved gene gun.
Neuroscience, Issue 92, Biolistics, gene gun, organotypic brain slices, Diolistic, gene delivery, staining
Hydrogel Nanoparticle Harvesting of Plasma or Urine for Detecting Low Abundance Proteins
Institutions: George Mason University, Ceres Nanosciences.
Novel biomarker discovery plays a crucial role in providing more sensitive and specific disease detection. Unfortunately many low-abundance biomarkers that exist in biological fluids cannot be easily detected with mass spectrometry or immunoassays because they are present in very low concentration, are labile, and are often masked by high-abundance proteins such as albumin or immunoglobulin. Bait containing poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (NIPAm) based nanoparticles are able to overcome these physiological barriers. In one step they are able to capture, concentrate and preserve biomarkers from body fluids. Low-molecular weight analytes enter the core of the nanoparticle and are captured by different organic chemical dyes, which act as high affinity protein baits. The nanoparticles are able to concentrate the proteins of interest by several orders of magnitude. This concentration factor is sufficient to increase the protein level such that the proteins are within the detection limit of current mass spectrometers, western blotting, and immunoassays. Nanoparticles can be incubated with a plethora of biological fluids and they are able to greatly enrich the concentration of low-molecular weight proteins and peptides while excluding albumin and other high-molecular weight proteins. Our data show that a 10,000 fold amplification in the concentration of a particular analyte can be achieved, enabling mass spectrometry and immunoassays to detect previously undetectable biomarkers.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, biomarker, hydrogel, low abundance, mass spectrometry, nanoparticle, plasma, protein, urine
Convergent Polishing: A Simple, Rapid, Full Aperture Polishing Process of High Quality Optical Flats & Spheres
Institutions: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Convergent Polishing is a novel polishing system and method for finishing flat and spherical glass optics in which a workpiece, independent of its initial shape (i.e.
, surface figure), will converge to final surface figure with excellent surface quality under a fixed, unchanging set of polishing parameters in a single polishing iteration. In contrast, conventional full aperture polishing methods require multiple, often long, iterative cycles involving polishing, metrology and process changes to achieve the desired surface figure. The Convergent Polishing process is based on the concept of workpiece-lap height mismatch resulting in pressure differential that decreases with removal and results in the workpiece converging to the shape of the lap. The successful implementation of the Convergent Polishing process is a result of the combination of a number of technologies to remove all sources of non-uniform spatial material removal (except for workpiece-lap mismatch) for surface figure convergence and to reduce the number of rogue particles in the system for low scratch densities and low roughness. The Convergent Polishing process has been demonstrated for the fabrication of both flats and spheres of various shapes, sizes, and aspect ratios on various glass materials. The practical impact is that high quality optical components can be fabricated more rapidly, more repeatedly, with less metrology, and with less labor, resulting in lower unit costs. In this study, the Convergent Polishing protocol is specifically described for fabricating 26.5 cm square fused silica flats from a fine ground surface to a polished ~λ/2 surface figure after polishing 4 hr per surface on a 81 cm diameter polisher.
Physics, Issue 94, optical fabrication, pad polishing, fused silica glass, optical flats, optical spheres, ceria slurry, pitch button blocking, HF etching, scratches
Detection of Fluorescent Nanoparticle Interactions with Primary Immune Cell Subpopulations by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, University of Pisa, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
Engineered nanoparticles are endowed with very promising properties for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. This work describes a fast and reliable method of analysis by flow cytometry to study nanoparticle interaction with immune cells. Primary immune cells can be easily purified from human or mouse tissues by antibody-mediated magnetic isolation. In the first instance, the different cell populations running in a flow cytometer can be distinguished by the forward-scattered light (FSC), which is proportional to cell size, and the side-scattered light (SSC), related to cell internal complexity. Furthermore, fluorescently labeled antibodies against specific cell surface receptors permit the identification of several subpopulations within the same sample. Often, all these features vary when cells are boosted by external stimuli that change their physiological and morphological state. Here, 50 nm FITC-SiO2
nanoparticles are used as a model to identify the internalization of nanostructured materials in human blood immune cells. The cell fluorescence and side-scattered light increase after incubation with nanoparticles allowed us to define time and concentration dependence of nanoparticle-cell interaction. Moreover, such protocol can be extended to investigate Rhodamine-SiO2
nanoparticle interaction with primary microglia, the central nervous system resident immune cells, isolated from mutant mice that specifically express the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) in the monocyte/macrophage lineage. Finally, flow cytometry data related to nanoparticle internalization into the cells have been confirmed by confocal microscopy.
Immunology, Issue 85, Flow cytometry, blood leukocytes, microglia, Nanoparticles, internalization, Fluorescence, cell purification
Evaluation of Polymeric Gene Delivery Nanoparticles by Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis and High-throughput Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
Non-viral gene delivery using polymeric nanoparticles has emerged as an attractive approach for gene therapy to treat genetic diseases1
and as a technology for regenerative medicine2
. Unlike viruses, which have significant safety issues, polymeric nanoparticles can be designed to be non-toxic, non-immunogenic, non-mutagenic, easier to synthesize, chemically versatile, capable of carrying larger nucleic acid cargo and biodegradable and/or environmentally responsive. Cationic polymers self-assemble with negatively charged DNA via electrostatic interaction to form complexes on the order of 100 nm that are commonly termed polymeric nanoparticles. Examples of biomaterials used to form nanoscale polycationic gene delivery nanoparticles include polylysine, polyphosphoesters, poly(amidoamines)s and polyethylenimine (PEI), which is a non-degradable off-the-shelf cationic polymer commonly used for nucleic acid delivery1,3
. Poly(beta-amino ester)s (PBAEs) are a newer class of cationic polymers4
that are hydrolytically degradable5,6
and have been shown to be effective at gene delivery to hard-to-transfect cell types such as human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs)7
, mouse mammary epithelial cells8
, human brain cancer cells9
and macrovascular (human umbilical vein, HUVECs) endothelial cells10
A new protocol to characterize polymeric nanoparticles utilizing nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA) is described. In this approach, both the particle size distribution and the distribution of the number of plasmids per particle are obtained11
. In addition, a high-throughput 96-well plate transfection assay for rapid screening of the transfection efficacy of polymeric nanoparticles is presented. In this protocol, poly(beta-amino ester)s (PBAEs) are used as model polymers and human retinal endothelial cells (HRECs) are used as model human cells. This protocol can be easily adapted to evaluate any polymeric nanoparticle and any cell type of interest in a multi-well plate format.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 73, Bioengineering, Tissue Engineering, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Genetics, Biocompatible Materials, Biopolymers, Drug Delivery Systems, Nanotechnology, bioengineering (general), Therapeutics, Nanoparticle, poly(beta-amino ester), high-throughput, transfection, nanoparticle tracking analysis, biomaterial, gene delivery, flow cytometry
Encapsulation and Permeability Characteristics of Plasma Polymerized Hollow Particles
Institutions: The Pennsylvania State University.
In this protocol, core-shell nanostructures are synthesized by plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition. We produce an amorphous barrier by plasma polymerization of isopropanol on various solid substrates, including silica and potassium chloride. This versatile technique is used to treat nanoparticles and nanopowders with sizes ranging from 37 nm to 1 micron, by depositing films whose thickness can be anywhere from 1 nm to upwards of 100 nm. Dissolution of the core allows us to study the rate of permeation through the film. In these experiments, we determine the diffusion coefficient of KCl through the barrier film by coating KCL nanocrystals and subsequently monitoring the ionic conductivity of the coated particles suspended in water. The primary interest in this process is the encapsulation and delayed release of solutes. The thickness of the shell is one of the independent variables by which we control the rate of release. It has a strong effect on the rate of release, which increases from a six-hour release (shell thickness is 20 nm) to a long-term release over 30 days (shell thickness is 95 nm). The release profile shows a characteristic behavior: a fast release (35% of the final materials) during the first five minutes after the beginning of the dissolution, and a slower release till all of the core materials come out.
Physics, Issue 66, Chemical Engineering, Plasma Physics, Plasma coating, Core-shell structure, Hollow particles, Permeability, nanoparticles, nanopowders
Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g.
changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ
experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ
on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ
and in situ
samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
Tangential Flow Ultrafiltration: A “Green” Method for the Size Selection and Concentration of Colloidal Silver Nanoparticles
Institutions: Wright State University, Wright State University.
Nowadays, AgNPs are extensively used in the manufacture of consumer products,1
and biomedical devices4
due to their powerful antimicrobial properties.3-6
These nanoparticle applications are strongly influenced by the AgNP size and aggregation state. Many challenges exist in the controlled fabrication7
and size-based isolation4,8
of unfunctionalized, homogenous AgNPs that are free from chemically aggressive capping/stabilizing agents or organic solvents.7-13
Limitations emerge from the toxicity of reagents, high costs or reduced efficiency of the AgNP synthesis or isolation methods (e.g.
, centrifugation, size-dependent solubility, size-exclusion chromatography, etc.).10,14-18
To overcome this, we recently showed that TFU permits greater control over the size, concentration and aggregation state of Creighton AgNPs (300 ml of 15.3 μg ml-1
down to 10 ml of 198.7 μg ml-1
) than conventional methods of isolation such as ultracentrifugation.19
TFU is a recirculation method commonly used for the weight-based isolation of proteins, viruses and cells.20,21
Briefly, the liquid sample is passed through a series of hollow fiber membranes with pore size ranging from 1,000 kD to 10 kD. Smaller suspended or dissolved constituents in the sample will pass through the porous barrier together with the solvent (filtrate), while the larger constituents are retained (retentate). TFU may be considered a "green" method as it neither damages the sample nor requires additional solvent to eliminate toxic excess reagents and byproducts. Furthermore, TFU may be applied to a large variety of nanoparticles as both hydrophobic and hydrophilic filters are available.
The two main objectives of this study were: 1) to illustrate the experimental aspects of the TFU approach through an invited video experience and 2) to demonstrate the feasibility of the TFU method for larger volumes of colloidal nanoparticles and smaller volumes of retentate. First, unfuctionalized AgNPs (4 L, 15.2 μg ml-1
) were synthesized using the well-established Creighton method22,23
by the reduction of AgNO3
. AgNP polydispersity was then minimized via a 3-step TFU using a 50-nm filter (460 cm2
) to remove AgNPs and AgNP-aggregates larger than 50 nm, followed by two 100-kD (200 cm2
and 20 cm2
) filters to concentrate the AgNPs. Representative samples were characterized using transmission electron microscopy, UV-Vis absorption spectrophotometry, Raman spectroscopy, and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy. The final retentate consisted of highly concentrated (4 ml, 8,539.9 μg ml-1
) yet lowly aggregated and homogeneous AgNPs of 1-20 nm in diameter. This corresponds to a silver concentration yield of about 62%.
Chemistry, Issue 68, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Nanotechnology, silver nanoparticles, size selection, concentration, tangential flow ultrafiltration
Solubilization and Bio-conjugation of Quantum Dots and Bacterial Toxicity Assays by Growth Curve and Plate Count
Institutions: McGill University, Montreal, QC Canada.
Quantum dots (QDs) are fluorescent semiconductor nanoparticles with size-dependent emission spectra that can be excited by a broad choice of wavelengths. QDs have attracted a lot of interest for imaging, diagnostics, and therapy due to their bright, stable fluorescence1,2 3,4,5
. QDs can be conjugated to a variety of bio-active molecules for binding to bacteria and mammalian cells6
QDs are also being widely investigated as cytotoxic agents for targeted killing of bacteria. The emergence of multiply-resistant bacterial strains is rapidly becoming a public health crisis, particularly in the case of Gram negative pathogens 7
. Because of the well-known antimicrobial effect of certain nanomaterials, especially Ag, there are hundreds of studies examining the toxicity of nanoparticles to bacteria 8
. Bacterial studies have been performed with other types of semiconductor nanoparticles as well, especially TiO2 9,10-11
, but also ZnO12
and others including CuO 13
. Some comparisons of bacterial strains have been performed in these studies, usually comparing a Gram negative strain with a Gram positive. With all of these particles, mechanisms of toxicity are attributed to oxidation: either the photogeneration of reactive oxygen species (ROS) by the particles or the direct release of metal ions that can cause oxidative toxicity. Even with these materials, results of different studies vary greatly. In some studies the Gram positive test strain is reportedly more sensitive than the Gram negative 10
; in others it is the opposite 14
. These studies have been well reviewed 15
In all nanoparticle studies, particle composition, size, surface chemistry, sample aging/breakdown, and wavelength, power, and duration of light exposure can all dramatically affect the results. In addition, synthesis byproducts and solvents must be considered16 17
. High-throughput screening techniques are needed to be able to develop effective new nanomedicine agents.
CdTe QDs have anti-microbial effects alone18
or in combination with antibiotics. In a previous study, we showed that coupling of antibiotics to CdTe can increase toxicity to bacteria but decrease toxicity to mammalian cells, due to decreased production of reactive oxygen species from the conjugates19
. Although it is unlikely that cadmium-containing compounds will be approved for use in humans, such preparations could be used for disinfection of surfaces or sterilization of water.
In this protocol, we give a straightforward approach to solubilizing CdTe QDs with mercaptopropionic acid (MPA). The QDs are ready to use within an hour. We then demonstrate coupling to an antimicrobial agent.
The second part of the protocol demonstrates a 96-well bacterial inhibition assay using the conjugated and unconjugated QDs. The optical density is read over many hours, permitting the effects of QD addition and light exposure to be evaluated immediately as well as after a recovery period. We also illustrate a colony count for quantifying bacterial survival.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 65, Bioengineering, Molecular Biology, Quantum dots, solubilization, conjugation, cytotoxicity, phototoxicity, growth curve, plate count
Preparation of Silica Nanoparticles Through Microwave-assisted Acid-catalysis
Institutions: Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Airbase Technology Division, Clemson University.
Microwave-assisted synthetic techniques were used to quickly and reproducibly produce silica nanoparticle sols
using an acid catalyst with nanoparticle diameters ranging from 30-250 nm by varying the reaction conditions. Through the selection of a microwave compatible solvent, silicic acid precursor, catalyst, and microwave irradiation time, these microwave-assisted methods were capable of overcoming the previously reported shortcomings associated with synthesis of silica nanoparticles using microwave reactors. The siloxane precursor was hydrolyzed using the acid catalyst, HCl. Acetone, a low-tan δ
solvent, mediates the condensation reactions and has minimal interaction with the electromagnetic field. Condensation reactions begin when the silicic acid precursor couples with the microwave radiation, leading to silica nanoparticle sol
formation. The silica nanoparticles were characterized by dynamic light scattering data and scanning electron microscopy, which show the materials' morphology and size to be dependent on the reaction conditions. Microwave-assisted reactions produce silica nanoparticles with roughened textured surfaces that are atypical for silica sols
produced by Stöber's methods, which have smooth surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 82, Chemistry, chemical manufacturing, chemistry (general), materials (general), nanocomposites, catalysts (chemical), chemistry of compounds, Chemistry and Materials (General), Composite Materials, Inorganic, Organic and Physical Chemistry, Engineering (General), Microwave, nanoparticle, silica, silicic acid, NP, SiO2, synthesis
PLGA Nanoparticles Formed by Single- or Double-emulsion with Vitamin E-TPGS
Institutions: Barrow Neurological Institute.
Poly(lactic-co-glycolic acid) (PLGA) is a biocompatible member of the aliphatic polyester family of biodegradable polymers. PLGA has long been a popular choice for drug delivery applications, particularly since it is already FDA-approved for use in humans in the form of resorbable sutures. Hydrophobic and hydrophilic drugs are encapsulated in PLGA particles via single- or double-emulsion. Briefly, the drug is dissolved with polymer or emulsified with polymer in an organic phase that is then emulsified with the aqueous phase. After the solvent has evaporated, particles are washed and collected via centrifugation for lyophilization and long term storage. PLGA degrades slowly via hydrolysis in aqueous environments, and encapsulated agents are released over a period of weeks to months. Although PLGA is a material that possesses many advantages for drug delivery, reproducible formation of nanoparticles can be challenging; considerable variability is introduced by the use of different equipment, reagents batch, and precise method of emulsification. Here, we describe in great detail the formation and characterization of microparticles and nanoparticles formed by single- or double-emulsion using the emulsifying agent vitamin E-TPGS. Particle morphology and size are determined with scanning electron microscopy (SEM). We provide representative SEM images for nanoparticles produced with varying emulsifier concentration, as well as examples of imaging artifacts and failed emulsifications. This protocol can be readily adapted to use alternative emulsifiers (e.g.
poly(vinyl alcohol), PVA) or solvents (e.g.
Chemistry, Issue 82, Nanoparticles, Microparticles, PLGA, TPGS, drug delivery, scanning electron microscopy, emulsion, polymers
In Situ SIMS and IR Spectroscopy of Well-defined Surfaces Prepared by Soft Landing of Mass-selected Ions
Institutions: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
Soft landing of mass-selected ions onto surfaces is a powerful approach for the highly-controlled preparation of materials that are inaccessible using conventional synthesis techniques. Coupling soft landing with in situ
characterization using secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) and infrared reflection absorption spectroscopy (IRRAS) enables analysis of well-defined surfaces under clean vacuum conditions. The capabilities of three soft-landing instruments constructed in our laboratory are illustrated for the representative system of surface-bound organometallics prepared by soft landing of mass-selected ruthenium tris(bipyridine) dications, [Ru(bpy)3
(bpy = bipyridine), onto carboxylic acid terminated self-assembled monolayer surfaces on gold (COOH-SAMs). In situ
time-of-flight (TOF)-SIMS provides insight into the reactivity of the soft-landed ions. In addition, the kinetics of charge reduction, neutralization and desorption occurring on the COOH-SAM both during and after ion soft landing are studied using in situ
Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance (FT-ICR)-SIMS measurements. In situ
IRRAS experiments provide insight into how the structure of organic ligands surrounding metal centers is perturbed through immobilization of organometallic ions on COOH-SAM surfaces by soft landing. Collectively, the three instruments provide complementary information about the chemical composition, reactivity and structure of well-defined species supported on surfaces.
Chemistry, Issue 88, soft landing, mass selected ions, electrospray, secondary ion mass spectrometry, infrared spectroscopy, organometallic, catalysis
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Preparation and Use of Photocatalytically Active Segmented Ag|ZnO and Coaxial TiO2-Ag Nanowires Made by Templated Electrodeposition
Institutions: University of Twente.
Photocatalytically active nanostructures require a large specific surface area with the presence of many catalytically active sites for the oxidation and reduction half reactions, and fast electron (hole) diffusion and charge separation. Nanowires present suitable architectures to meet these requirements. Axially segmented Ag|ZnO and radially segmented (coaxial) TiO2
-Ag nanowires with a diameter of 200 nm and a length of 6-20 µm were made by templated electrodeposition within the pores of polycarbonate track-etched (PCTE) or anodized aluminum oxide (AAO) membranes, respectively. In the photocatalytic experiments, the ZnO and TiO2
phases acted as photoanodes, and Ag as cathode. No external circuit is needed to connect both electrodes, which is a key advantage over conventional photo-electrochemical cells. For making segmented Ag|ZnO nanowires, the Ag salt electrolyte was replaced after formation of the Ag segment to form a ZnO segment attached to the Ag segment. For making coaxial TiO2
-Ag nanowires, a TiO2
gel was first formed by the electrochemically induced sol-gel method. Drying and thermal annealing of the as-formed TiO2
gel resulted in the formation of crystalline TiO2
nanotubes. A subsequent Ag electrodeposition step inside the TiO2
nanotubes resulted in formation of coaxial TiO2
-Ag nanowires. Due to the combination of an n
-type semiconductor (ZnO or TiO2
) and a metal (Ag) within the same nanowire, a Schottky barrier was created at the interface between the phases. To demonstrate the photocatalytic activity of these nanowires, the Ag|ZnO nanowires were used in a photocatalytic experiment in which H2
gas was detected upon UV illumination of the nanowires dispersed in a methanol/water mixture. After 17 min of illumination, approximately 0.2 vol% H2
gas was detected from a suspension of ~0.1 g of Ag|ZnO nanowires in a 50 ml 80 vol% aqueous methanol solution.
Physics, Issue 87, Multicomponent nanowires, electrochemistry, sol-gel processes, photocatalysis, photochemistry, H2 evolution
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Confocal Imaging of Confined Quiescent and Flowing Colloid-polymer Mixtures
Institutions: University of Houston.
The behavior of confined colloidal suspensions with attractive interparticle interactions is critical to the rational design of materials for directed assembly1-3
, drug delivery4
, improved hydrocarbon recovery5-7
, and flowable electrodes for energy storage8
. Suspensions containing fluorescent colloids and non-adsorbing polymers are appealing model systems, as the ratio of the polymer radius of gyration to the particle radius and concentration of polymer control the range and strength of the interparticle attraction, respectively. By tuning the polymer properties and the volume fraction of the colloids, colloid fluids, fluids of clusters, gels, crystals, and glasses can be obtained9
. Confocal microscopy, a variant of fluorescence microscopy, allows an optically transparent and fluorescent sample to be imaged with high spatial and temporal resolution in three dimensions. In this technique, a small pinhole or slit blocks the emitted fluorescent light from regions of the sample that are outside the focal volume of the microscope optical system. As a result, only a thin section of the sample in the focal plane is imaged. This technique is particularly well suited to probe the structure and dynamics in dense colloidal suspensions at the single-particle scale: the particles are large enough to be resolved using visible light and diffuse slowly enough to be captured at typical scan speeds of commercial confocal systems10
. Improvements in scan speeds and analysis algorithms have also enabled quantitative confocal imaging of flowing suspensions11-16,37
. In this paper, we demonstrate confocal microscopy experiments to probe the confined phase behavior and flow properties of colloid-polymer mixtures. We first prepare colloid-polymer mixtures that are density- and refractive-index matched. Next, we report a standard protocol for imaging quiescent dense colloid-polymer mixtures under varying confinement in thin wedge-shaped cells. Finally, we demonstrate a protocol for imaging colloid-polymer mixtures during microchannel flow.
Chemistry, Issue 87, confocal microscopy, particle tracking, colloids, suspensions, confinement, gelation, microfluidics, image correlation, dynamics, suspension flow
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Polycrystalline Silicon Thin-film Solar cells with Plasmonic-enhanced Light-trapping
Institutions: University of New South Wales .
One of major approaches to cheaper solar cells is reducing the amount of semiconductor material used for their fabrication and making cells thinner. To compensate for lower light absorption such physically thin devices have to incorporate light-trapping which increases their optical thickness. Light scattering by textured surfaces is a common technique but it cannot be universally applied to all solar cell technologies. Some cells, for example those made of evaporated silicon, are planar as produced and they require an alternative light-trapping means suitable for planar devices. Metal nanoparticles formed on planar silicon cell surface and capable of light scattering due to surface plasmon resonance is an effective approach.
The paper presents a fabrication procedure of evaporated polycrystalline silicon solar cells with plasmonic light-trapping and demonstrates how the cell quantum efficiency improves due to presence of metal nanoparticles.
To fabricate the cells a film consisting of alternative boron and phosphorous doped silicon layers is deposited on glass substrate by electron beam evaporation. An Initially amorphous film is crystallised and electronic defects are mitigated by annealing and hydrogen passivation. Metal grid contacts are applied to the layers of opposite polarity to extract electricity generated by the cell. Typically, such a ~2 μm thick cell has a short-circuit current density (Jsc
) of 14-16 mA/cm2
, which can be increased up to 17-18 mA/cm2
(~25% higher) after application of a simple diffuse back reflector made of a white paint.
To implement plasmonic light-trapping a silver nanoparticle array is formed on the metallised cell silicon surface. A precursor silver film is deposited on the cell by thermal evaporation and annealed at 23°C to form silver nanoparticles. Nanoparticle size and coverage, which affect plasmonic light-scattering, can be tuned for enhanced cell performance by varying the precursor film thickness and its annealing conditions. An optimised nanoparticle array alone results in cell Jsc
enhancement of about 28%, similar to the effect of the diffuse reflector. The photocurrent can be further increased by coating the nanoparticles by a low refractive index dielectric, like MgF2
, and applying the diffused reflector. The complete plasmonic cell structure comprises the polycrystalline silicon film, a silver nanoparticle array, a layer of MgF2
, and a diffuse reflector. The Jsc
for such cell is 21-23 mA/cm2
, up to 45% higher than Jsc
of the original cell without light-trapping or ~25% higher than Jsc
for the cell with the diffuse reflector only.
Light-trapping in silicon solar cells is commonly achieved via light scattering at textured interfaces. Scattered light travels through a cell at oblique angles for a longer distance and when such angles exceed the critical angle at the cell interfaces the light is permanently trapped in the cell by total internal reflection (Animation 1: Light-trapping)
. Although this scheme works well for most solar cells, there are developing technologies where ultra-thin Si layers are produced planar (e.g. layer-transfer technologies and epitaxial c-Si layers) 1
and or when such layers are not compatible with textures substrates (e.g. evaporated silicon) 2
. For such originally planar Si layer alternative light trapping approaches, such as diffuse white paint reflector 3
, silicon plasma texturing 4
or high refractive index nanoparticle reflector 5
have been suggested.
Metal nanoparticles can effectively scatter incident light into a higher refractive index material, like silicon, due to the surface plasmon resonance effect 6
. They also can be easily formed on the planar silicon cell surface thus offering a light-trapping approach alternative to texturing. For a nanoparticle located at the air-silicon interface the scattered light fraction coupled into silicon exceeds 95% and a large faction of that light is scattered at angles above critical providing nearly ideal light-trapping condition (Animation 2: Plasmons on NP)
. The resonance can be tuned to the wavelength region, which is most important for a particular cell material and design, by varying the nanoparticle average size, surface coverage and local dielectric environment 6,7
. Theoretical design principles of plasmonic nanoparticle solar cells have been suggested 8
. In practice, Ag nanoparticle array is an ideal light-trapping partner for poly-Si thin-film solar cells because most of these design principle are naturally met. The simplest way of forming nanoparticles by thermal annealing of a thin precursor Ag film results in a random array with a relatively wide size and shape distribution, which is particularly suitable for light-trapping because such an array has a wide resonance peak, covering the wavelength range of 700-900 nm, important for poly-Si solar cell performance. The nanoparticle array can only be located on the rear poly-Si cell surface thus avoiding destructive interference between incident and scattered light which occurs for front-located nanoparticles 9
. Moreover, poly-Si thin-film cells do not requires a passivating layer and the flat base-shaped nanoparticles (that naturally result from thermal annealing of a metal film) can be directly placed on silicon further increases plasmonic scattering efficiency due to surface plasmon-polariton resonance 10
The cell with the plasmonic nanoparticle array as described above can have a photocurrent about 28% higher than the original cell. However, the array still transmits a significant amount of light which escapes through the rear of the cell and does not contribute into the current. This loss can be mitigated by adding a rear reflector to allow catching transmitted light and re-directing it back to the cell. Providing sufficient distance between the reflector and the nanoparticles (a few hundred nanometers) the reflected light will then experience one more plasmonic scattering event while passing through the nanoparticle array on re-entering the cell and the reflector itself can be made diffuse - both effects further facilitating light scattering and hence light-trapping. Importantly, the Ag nanoparticles have to be encapsulated with an inert and low refractive index dielectric, like MgF2
, from the rear reflector to avoid mechanical and chemical damage 7
. Low refractive index for this cladding layer is required to maintain a high coupling fraction into silicon and larger scattering angles, which are ensured by the high optical contrast between the media on both sides of the nanoparticle, silicon and dielectric 6
. The photocurrent of the plasmonic cell with the diffuse rear reflector can be up to 45% higher than the current of the original cell or up to 25% higher than the current of an equivalent cell with the diffuse reflector only.
Physics, Issue 65, Materials Science, Photovoltaics, Silicon thin-film solar cells, light-trapping, metal nanoparticles, surface plasmons