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Science. 2010 Oct 15;330(6002):353-6. doi: 10.1126/science.1195475.

Room-temperature detection of a single molecule's absorption by photothermal contrast.

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  • 1Institute of Physics, Leiden University, Post Office Box 9504, 2300 RA Leiden, Netherlands.


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 angstroms(2) for a single chromophore.

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