Nanophotonics of RE/DNA/nanotube materials: From bio-sensing-on-chip to live stem cell measurements

Project: Research project

Project Details


Abstract Title: Fundamental physics and biosensing applications of composite fluorescent nanomaterials rare-earths combined with DNA-enclosed carbon nanotubes


Nanomaterials have influenced drastically several aspects of modern life, one of those is associated with their power in medicine and health care. This research involves rare-earth based materials due to their excellent fluorescence rare earths have already found a significant application niche in lighting, solar cells, sensors, biological and medical diagnostics and imaging. The bioimaging applications will be further advanced in this project. It is a continuation of the previous study in which rare-earths were combined with a unique nanocarbon material, so called single-wall nanotubes. Nanotubes by themselves has been already used in various miniaturized sensors, which are so extremely small that can be placed on a fabric thread. Most recently this group proposed using nanotubes enclosed in the DNA for studying live cells and has obtained promising results. It has been already demonstrated how nanomaterials could improve sensing capabilities of rare-earths. New project will extend this study and focus on nanotubes as tiny antennas to magnify the optical signals received by rare-earths. Due to small (nanometer) scale of these optical elements they can penetrate inside the cells and transmit the biologically relevant information from there, potentially improving our knowledge about how cells work as building blocks of organisms and helping medicine and health sciences in solving their current problems. This research is accompanied by a vigorous outreach program, aimed both on the local community and STEM students nationwide.


This project focuses on developing and studying materials for bioimaging based on the rare-earth complexes with single-wall nanotubes and single strand DNA. Significance of this research is in developing a new biosensing material. Since single-wall nanotubes have diameters of only a few nanometers, they are comparable to many biological macromolecules such as enzymes, antibodies, DNA plasmids, etc. and may interact with intracellular environment. This makes them increasingly relevant for new opportunities in biomedical research and applications. Though at early stage, this project enlighten us about how the living organisms, at the cell level, may be influenced by new modern nanomaterials (nanotubes) upon ingestion. Using optical non-destructing characterization the fate of the nanotubes inside the cells has been already determined on the previous stage of the project. In the course of new project the team will work on intertwined theoretical and experimental tasks, including experimental optical characterization and theory of near-field electromagnetic modes in the hybrid materials of nanotubes-DNA-rare-earth-ions; exploring performance of these nanomaterials for bio-sensing applications in photonic-crystals and inside bio-mimetic hydrogels; studying the role of hotspots in nanotube materials and their influence on the photoluminescence of rare-earth ions and/or DNA; experimental studies of modulation of optical response of photonic crystals incorporating biosensing materials inside its lattice; application of these nanomaterials inside micro-fluidics sensing system and to studying in vitro neural stem cell. A series of samples will be studied, prepared at Lehigh University as well as at University of Utah, LANL and NIST via the collaboration links. A diverse program for dissemination of those results involves research advising and teaching at Lehigh, outreach at local schools (Palisades High School, Moravian Academy), participation in exhibition at a school children development National facility (the DaVinci Discovery Center), STEM enhancement programs via local Community Colleges (NCCC, LCTI and LCCC) and local Kutztown University, REU and GAAN programs within the Physics Department.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/176/30/19


  • National Science Foundation: $109,517.00


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