Physicists have developed a new type of sensor platform using a gold nanoparticle array that is 100 times more sensitive than current similar sensors. The sensor is made up of a series of gold disk-shaped nanoparticles on a glass slide. The team discovered that when they shone an infrared laser at a precise arrangement of the particles, they started to emit unusual amounts of ultraviolet (UV) light.

In the sensor, gold nanodisks are arranged in squares. The arrangement causes the sensor to emit UV light (in blue). (Credit: V.K Valev and D.C Hooper)

This mechanism for generating UV light is affected by molecules binding to the surface of the nanoparticles, providing a means of sensing a very small amount of material. The researchers hope that in the future they can use the technology to develop new ultrasensitive sensors for air pollution or for medical diagnostics.

This new mechanism has great potential for detecting small molecules. It is 100 times more sensitive than current methods. This technique could enable ultra-sensitive detection of molecules in tiny volumes. It could in the future be used for detecting very low concentrations of biological markers for the early diagnostic screening for diseases, such as cancer.

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