High-speed imaging and tracking of very small single nanoparticles by contrast enhanced microscopy†
Nanoparticles have been used extensively in biology-related research and many applications require direct visualization of individual nanoparticles by optical microscopy. For long-term and high-speed measurements, scattering-based microscopy is a unique technique because of the stable and indefinite scattering signals. In scattering-based single-particle measurements, large nanoparticles are usually needed in order to generate sufficient signals for detection. However, larger nanoparticles introduce greater mass loading, experience stronger steric hindrance, and are more prone to crosslinking. In this work, we demonstrate coherent brightfield (COBRI) microscopy with enhanced contrast and show its capability of direct visualization of very small nanoparticles in scattering at a high speed. COBRI microscopy allows us to visualize and track single metallic and dielectric nanoparticles, as small as 10 nm, at 1000 frames per second. A quantitative relationship between the linear scattering cross section of the nanoparticle and its COBRI contrast is reported. Using COBRI microscopy, we further demonstrate the tracking of 10 nm gold nanoparticles labeled to lipid molecules in supported bilayer membranes, showing that the small nanoparticles may facilitate single-molecule measurements with reduced perturbation. Furthermore, the identical imaging sensitivities of COBRI and interferometric scattering (iSCAT) microscopy, the reflection counterpart of COBRI, is demonstrated at an equal illumination intensity. Finally, future improvements in the speed and sensitivity of scattering-based interference microscopy are discussed.