Abstract:: Plasmonic nanostructures have been extensively studied for their potential application in numerous fields such as nanophotonics, biosensors, and bioimaging. One of the key properties of nanostructures that can be manipulated for practical applications is their capabilities to modulate the optical and photophysical properties of fluorophores residing nearby. Surface plasmons (SP), which can be defined as the collective oscillation of the delocalized electrons, are the fundamental characteristic of nanostructures that are primarily responsible for altering those properties. Elucidating fluorophores at the single-molecule level has received significant attention since more specific information can be extracted from single molecule-based studies, which otherwise, could be obscured in ensemble studies. However, single-molecule studies are inherently challenging because the signal from a single molecule is usually deem, which makes it difficult to detect. The situation is even worse in the case of a crowded environment due to higher background noise, such as cellular autofluorescences in the case of cell-based studies. Thus, one of the possible ways out of this single-molecule detection problem is to couple the fluorophore with a plasmonic nanostructure which can potentially enhance the fluorescence intensity of the single fluorophore leading to the improvement in signal to noise ratio. Throughout the projects presented here, I studied the fluorescence characteristics of single fluorophore molecules coupled in a plasmonic nano-aperture which is termed as Zero Mode Waveguides (ZMWs). I utilized single fluorophores of different origins, such as organic dyes and quantum dots (QDs), in ZMWs of different metallic compositions. By probing ZMWs made from the mixture of Aluminum and gold, with a range of ATTO dyes emitting across the visible wavelength, we found that the surface plasmon resonance of ZMWs is tunable by optimizing the metal ratio. Apart from the ATTO dyes, I investigated the photoluminescence (PL) behavior of single QDs in ZMWs and observed a significant enhancement in PL intensity and a substantial improvement in the blinking characteristics of the QDs, which are beneficial for the utility of QDs as a bio-imaging agent or a single-photon source. Single QDs in ZMWs exhibited a significant enhancement in biexciton quantum yield, which is crucial for their potential application in lasing where materials with a high optical gain are desired. I also examined the fluorescence properties of the single fluorophores in gold ZMWs in the presence of a gold nanoparticle (AuNP) and observed a more significant enhancement in fluorescence intensity in the gap between AuZMW and AuNP compared to the case of only AuZMW or only AuNP. The experimental design and the resulting findings throughout the three projects presented here should be a valuable resource for the future development of plasmon-mediated single-molecule studies.
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