A paper published in this week’s Nano Letters describes the work done by Stanford University scientists with what they call a “nanobeam,” a probe that emits light when inserted into a living cell. The tiny device, which consists of layers of gallium arsenide and photonic crystal coated in insulating material, is able to penetrate the cell without damaging it, and the light enables observation of cellular functions without disruption. Also, the observation can take place over a relatively long period of time: In one experiment, cells containing nanobeams continued their normal process of division, with daughter cells simply inheriting the devices from parent cells.
What’s the Big Idea?
Other types of nanoscale devices have been inserted into living cells, but this is the first time optical components have been used at this scale. Stanford’s nanobeam is a product of biophotonics, a science that combines engineering, biology, and medicine to create a wide range of innovative devices for use in many different applications. For the nanobeam, the paper’s senior author Jelena Vuckovic says such applications could range from “fundamental physics to nanolasers and biosensors that could have profound impact on biological research.”
Embedded in a cell phone or in accessories such as rings, bracelets or watches, the novel tools aim to make it easier to manage hypertension. But they must still pass several tests before hitting the clinic.