Fluorescence spectroscopy is widely used in biological research. Until recently, essentially all fluorescence experiments were performed using optical energy which has radiated to the far-field. By far-field we mean at least several wavelengths from the fluorophore, but propagating far-field radiation is usually detected at larger macroscopic distances from the sample. In recent years there has been a growing interest in the interactions of fluorophores with metallic surfaces or particles. Near-field interactions are those occurring within a wavelength distance of an excited fluorophore. The spectral properties of fluorophores can be dramatically altered by near-field interactions with the electron clouds present in metals. These interactions modify the emission in ways not seen in classical fluorescence experiments. In this review we provide an intuitive description of the complex physics of plasmons and near-field interactions. Additionally, we summarize the recent work on metal–fluorophore interactions and suggest how these effects will result in new classes of experimental procedures, novel probes, bioassays and devices.
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