Probing the inside of a living cell with an optically trapped gold nanorod


Nanoscale structural and mechanical heterogeneity inside living cells is difficult to access because of the scarcity of experimental tools with sufficient resolution and sensitivity. Optical and magnetic tweezers can be used to actively probe the mechanical and physical
properties of cell contents. However, dielectric and magnetic particles are not easily trapped for sizes less than 0.5 ┬Ám, which is considerably larger than the size regime required to probe subcellular structures. Because of their much larger polarizability, gold nanorods can be trapped down to sizes of ~10 nm. We propose to use a single gold nanorod held with optical tweezers to probe the inside of a single living cell on length-scales far below the diffraction limit of light. We will use active and passive nanorheology to measure the mechanical properties of the nanorod?s environment. Furthermore, the nanorod can be addressed optically for heating or spectral probing, thereby providing
information about variations in their local environment. Because these parameters are measured with one and the same particle, we can correlate mechanical properties and cellular structure/composition on nanometer length scales, which was not possible
before. Knowledge about nanoscale mechanical and physical properties inside cells and subcellular components is expected to lead to a better understanding of the cell?s health and functions.


Scientific article

  • M. Orrit, P Zijlstra, P.V. Ruijgrok, A. Tchebotareva(2010): Probing the acoustic vibrations of single metal nanoparticles by ultrashort laser pulses Laser and Photonics Review pp. 581 - 597
  • C Bullen, P Zijlstra, E Bakker, M Gu, C Raston(2011): Chemical kinetics of gold nanorod growth in aqueous CTAB solutions Crystal Growth and Design pp. 3375 - 3380
  • P Zijlstra, M Orrit(2011): Single metal nanoparticles: optical detection, spectroscopy and applications Reports on Progress in Physics pp. 106401 - 106401
  • P.V. Ruijgrok, N Verhart, P Zijlstra, A.L. Tchebotareva, M Orrit(2011): Brownian fluctuations and heating of an optically aligned gold nanorod Physical Review Letters pp. 037401 - 037401
  • M Yorulmaz, S Khatua, P Zijlstra, A Gaiduk, M Orrit(2012): Luminescence Quantum Yield of Single Gold Nanorods Nano Letters pp. 4385 - 4391
  • P Zijlstra, P.M.R. Paulo, M Orrit(2012): Optical detection of single non-absorbing molecules using the surface plasmon resonance of a gold nanorod Nature Nanotechnology pp. 379 - 382
  • P Zijlstra, M van Stee, N Verhart, Z Gu, M Orrit(2012): Rotational diffusion and alignment of short gold nanorods in an external electric field Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics pp. 4584 - 4588
  • P Zijlstra, P.M.R. Paulo, K Yu, Q.-H. Xu, M Orrit(2012): Chemical interface damping in single gold nanorods and its near elimination by tip-specific functionalization Angewandte Chemie International Edition pp. 8352 - 8355
  • P Ruijgrok, P Zijlstra, A Tchebotareva, M Orrit(2012): Damping of Acoustic Vibrations of Single Gold Nanoparticles Optically Trapped in Water Nano Letters pp. 1063 - 1069
  • H Yuan, S Khatua, P Zijlstra, M Yorulmaz, M Orrit(2012): Thousand-fold Enhancement of Single-Molecule Fluorescence Near a Single Gold Nanorod Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed. pp. 1 - 6
  • K Yu, P Zijlstra, J Sader, M Orrit(2013): Damping of Acoustic Vibrations of Immobilized Single Gold Nanorods in Different Environments Nano Letters pp. 2710 - 2716

Publications for the general public

  • P Zijlstra(2010): Plasmonic detection of single-molecule binding events
  • P Zijlstra(2010): Single gold nanorods: optical trapping and biosensing
  • P Zijlstra(2011): Detection of single non-absorbing proteins using a gold nanorod
  • P Zijlstra(2011): Plasmonic detection of single non-absorbing molecules
  • P Zijlstra(2011): A single gold nanorod for label-free detection of biomolecular binding
  • P Zijlstra(2011): Localized surface plasmons for nanoscience
  • P Zijlstra(2011): Plasmonic detection of single non-absorbing molecules
  • P Zijlstra(2011): Plasmonic detection of single-molecule binding events
  • P Zijlstra(2012): Plasmons in metal nanoparticles
  • (2012): Plasmonic detection of ?single non-absorbing proteins using a gold nanorod
  • (2012): Plasmonic detection of ?single non-absorbing proteins using a gold nanorod
  • P Zijlstra(2013): De kleur van goud
  • (2013): Photothermal microscopy for plasmonic biosensing with single-molecule sensitivity
  • P Zijlstra(2013): Optical trapping and biosensing with single plasmonic nanoparticles
  • (2013): A plasmonic biosensor with?single-molecule sensitivity


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. P. Zijlstra

Affiliated with

Technische Universiteit Eindhoven, Faculteit Technische Natuurkunde, Molecular Biosensors for Medical Diagnostics (MBx)

Team members

Dr. P. Zijlstra


19/05/2010 to 22/11/2013