First 3D Plasmon Rulers

Photo: A replication of the first 3D Plasmon Rulers

These 3D plasmon rulers could provide scientists with unprecedented details on such critical dynamic events in biology as the interaction of DNA with enzymes, the folding of proteins, the motion of peptides or the vibrations of cell membranes.

“We’ve demonstrated a 3D plasmon ruler, based on coupled plasmonic oligomers in combination with high-resolution plasmon spectroscopy, that enables us to retrieve the complete spatial configuration of complex macromolecular and biological processes, and to track the dynamic evolution of these processes,” says Paul Alivisatos, director of Berkeley Lab and leader of this research.

The nanometer scale is where the biological and materials sciences converge. As human machines and devices shrink to the size of biomolecules, scientists need tools by which to precisely measure minute structural changes and distances. To this end, researchers have been developing linear rulers based on the electronic surface waves known as “plasmons,” which are generated when light travels through the confined dimensions of noble metal nanoparticles or structures, such as gold or silver.

“Two noble metallic nanoparticles in close proximity will couple with each other through their plasmon resonances to generate a light-scattering spectrum that depends strongly on the distance between the two nanoparticles,” Alivisatos says. “This light-scattering effect has been used to create linear plasmon rulers that have been used to measure nanoscale distances in biological cells.”

Compared to other types of molecular rulers, which are based on chemical dyes and fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET), plasmon rulers neither blink nor photobleach, and also offer exceptional photostability and brightness. However, until now plasmon rulers could only be used to measure distances along one dimension, a limitation that hampers any comprehensive understanding of all the biological and other soft-matter processes that take place in 3D.; Source: University of Stuttgart