Room-Temperature Detection of a Single Molecule’s Absorption by Photothermal Contrast

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Science  15 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6002, pp. 353-356
DOI: 10.1126/science.1195475

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So far, single-molecule imaging has predominantly relied on fluorescence detection. We imaged single nonfluorescent azo dye molecules in room-temperature glycerol by the refractive effect of the heat that they release in their environment upon intense illumination. This photothermal technique provides contrast for the absorbing objects only, irrespective of scattering by defects or roughness, with a signal-to-noise ratio of ~10 for a single molecule in an integration time of 300 milliseconds. In the absence of oxygen, virtually no bleaching event was observed, even after more than 10 minutes of illumination. In a solution saturated with oxygen, the average bleaching time was of the order of 1 minute. No blinking was observed in the absorption signal. On the basis of bleaching steps, we obtained an average absorption cross section of 4 angstroms2 for a single chromophore.

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