Monitoring membrane potential in neurons requires sensors with minimal invasiveness, high spatial and temporal (sub-ms) resolution, and large sensitivity for enabling detection of sub-threshold activities. While organic dyes and fluorescent proteins have been developed to possess voltage-sensing properties, photobleaching, cytotoxicity, low sensitivity, and low spatial resolution have obstructed further studies. Semiconductor nanoparticles (NPs), as prospective voltage sensors, have shown excellent sensitivity based on Quantum confined Stark effect (QCSE) at room temperature and at single particle level. Both theory and experiment have shown their voltage sensitivity can be increased significantly via material, bandgap, and structural engineering. Based on theoretical calculations, we synthesized one of the optimal candidates for voltage sensors: 12 nm type-II ZnSe/CdS nanorods (NRs), with an asymmetrically located seed. The voltage sensitivity and spectral shift were characterized in vitro using spectrally-resolved microscopy using electrodes grown by thin film deposition, which “sandwich” the NRs. We characterized multiple batches of such NRs and iteratively modified the synthesis to achieve higher voltage sensitivity (ΔF/F> 10%), larger spectral shift (>5 nm), better homogeneity, and better colloidal stability. Using a high throughput screening method, we were able to compare the voltage sensitivity of our NRs with commercial spherical quantum dots (QDs) with single particle statistics. Our method of high throughput screening with spectrally-resolved microscope also provides a versatile tool for studying single particles spectroscopy under field modulation.
We investigate the quantum confined Stark effect (QCSE) of various nanoparticles (NPs) on the single molecule level at
room temperature. We tested 8 different NPs with different geometry, material composition and electronic structure, and
measured their QCSE by single molecule spectroscopy. This study reveals that suppressing the Coulomb interaction force between electron and hole by asymmetric type-II interface is critical for an enhanced QCSE. For example, ZnSe-CdS and CdSe(Te)-CdS-CdZnSe asymmetric nanorods (type-II) display respectively twice and more than three times larger QCSE than that of simple type-I nanorods (CdSe). In addition, wavelength blue-shift of QCSE and roughly linear Δλ-F (emission wavelength shift vs. the applied electric field) relation are observed for the type-II nanorods. Experimental results (Δλ-F or ΔE-F) are successfully reproduced by self-consistent quantum mechanical calculation.
Intensity reduction in blue-shifted spectrum is also accounted for. Both calculations and experiments suggest that the
magnitude of the QCSE is predominantly determined by the degree of initial charge separation in these structures.