James Delehanty demonstrates the use of the cell microinjection system. (Credit: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)

Luminescent quantum dots are finding new and exciting applications in current nano-science research, including improved solar energy collectors, LEDs, and quantum computers. A recent thrust from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory's Nanoscience Institute is focused on applying them as tools for neuroscience, opening the doors for a new way to observe brain activity and its functions.

The group developed the first sensor to use quantum dots to monitor the brain by reading its electrical signals, resulting in a less-invasive process than the usual nanowire techniques. Monitoring the brain in this way can help scientists to better diagnose brain disorders such as traumatic brain injury.

Quantum dots are very much like “artificial atoms,” having unique properties that can be engineered for specific applications such as the color of the emitted light, by controlling the quantum dot's size, and the sensitivity to electric or magnetic fields by controlling structure and composition.

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