With this award, the Chemical Measurement and Imaging (CMI) program is supporting Jason McNeill of Clemson University to develop new imaging methods that will make it easier to visualize complex environments, such as individual cells or living tissue. The research is focused on the development of specially-prepared particles made from a certain kind of plastic that gives off light when it?s stimulated. Some of the particles being developed in this work have the capability of sensing other properties of the system being imaged, such as the local pH or local ion concentration. This work is having a broad impact on the biomedical field through the development of new devices and techniques that will make it possible to see inside living systems in new ways. The work may also help provide new tools for looking inside small devices such as semiconductors in fast electronics. The knowledge gained from this research will help to improve the functioning of a multitude of devices, such as light-emitting displays and photovoltaic cells.
The project focuses on tunable fluorescent nanoparticles for sensing and high-resolution bioimaging. New methods for the synthesis of customizable nanoparticles from conjugated polymers are being developed. These particles display a combination of optical properties and sensing capabilities. The work also involves the development of microscopic imaging methods especially adapted for use with these nanoparticles. The specific chemical structure of the nanoparticles imparts high fluorescence brightness and unusual optical properties such as single-step photoswitching, highly non-linear fluorescence, and sensing amplification via multiple energy transfer processes. The particles also exhibit lower toxicity compared to nanoparticles that contain heavy metals. Imaging methods are being developed to take advantage of the optical properties of the nanoparticles in order to obtain sharp images and chemical information inside cells and tissue, with a resolution of a few nanometers. The nanoparticles will also be tuned for sensitive chemical sensing applications.