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Herzschlag von Nanoteilchen wird sichtbar

No. 47 of June 1, 2011

Heartbeat of nanoparticles made visible

Even tiny gold nanoparticles, with a diameter of only 40 millionths of a millimeter, have something like a heartbeat. When focusing a short laser pulse on the particles they heat up very briefly and start to vibrate. But, even the best microscopes can not resolve these nanoparticles, which are therefore very difficult to study. Now assistant professor Markus Lippitz from the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, together with his Ph.D. student Thorsten Schumacher achieved a breakthrough that was published in the journal Nature Communications.*) He used a nano-antenna, which has already been applied successfully as a nanosensor by Prof. Harald Giessen from the 4 . Physics Institute of the University of Stuttgart.

Assistant professor Markus Lippitz (left) with his PhD student Thorsten Schumacher. (picture Universität Stuttgart)

As in a mobile phone

Lippitz' dream is to investigate the mechanical properties of the smallest nanoparticles. "The surface to volume ratio would then be huge, and we would expect new nanomechanical properties," he explains. To get one step closer to this dream, he placed a small antenna near the tiny particle. This nano-antenna focuses the laser light very tightly on the nanoparticle under examination. Consequently, the light modulation due to the nanomechanical vibrations are very efficiently coupled back into the laser beam. “This is the first time that someone uses nano-antennas to investigate ultrafast nonlinear optical effects. The whole thing works like a mobile phone, in which the antenna makes that the electromagnetic waves are effectively coupled into the small electronic circuits of the phone“ Lippitz explains.

Lippitz sees a huge potential for his new method: "In the future, we will be able to put the smallest nano-objects of a few nanometers in diameter in the focal point of a nano-antenna and study them using non-linear optical processes of only a few femtoseconds duration (1 femtosecond = 1 billionth of a millionth of a second take). Then we can make movies on the nanoscale, using the most extreme slow motion. Not only can we investigate nanoobjects such as semiconductor quantum dots, but also chemical and biological objects, such as molecules and viruses." The head of the 4th Physics Institute, Prof. Harald Giessen, added: "The work by Markus Lippitz is a results of the very successful collaboration between the Max Planck Institute and the University of Stuttgart. Markus Lippitz is an excellent young scientists, who also supports the Stuttgart Excellence Initiative in the Graduate School "Advanced Condensed Matter Science“.

The work of Lippitz was funded by the state of Baden-Württemberg within the junior professors initiative and by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

*)Th. Schumacher, K. Kratzer, D. Molnar, M. Hentschel, H. Giessen, and M. Lippitz: Nanoantenna-enhanced ultrafast nonlinear spectroscopy of a single gold nanoparticle, Nature Communications 2 (2011), http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms1334

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