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Sydney NanoProbe Hub

Sydney Nano's analytical equipment is staffed by research experts
The Hub is a state-of-the-art analytical facility, which provides unique nanoscale characterisation capability.

The Sydney NanoProbe Hub's strength is in nanocharacterisation of biological nanomaterials such as proteins, DNA and extracellular vesicles and interactions of exogenous nanomaterials with bacteria, cells and tissues.

The unique capabilities of the Hub are pivotal in devising effective point-of-care biosensors and personalised therapeutic interventions for prevention and treatment of major health problems.


One of the research strengths at the University of Sydney is the study of metals interacting with biological systems: naturally-occurring metals, metal-based therapeutic agents, or metal toxins encountered from the environment. The recent development of single cell inductively-coupled plasma – mass spectrometry (SC-ICP-MS) enables, for the first time, measurement of the number of metal atoms within an individual cell, and that of individual nanoparticles both in cells and in the environment. This technology is still being developed, and has only been applied to a handful of studies worldwide.

We are collaborating with Perkin Elmer to test the simultaneous detection of two elements in preliminary experiments:

  • analysis of heterogeneous cell populations (e.g. ex vivo mouse cells, tumours) - only single cell types have been tested until now
  • analysis of populations of cells that have previously been sorted by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) to analyse individual populations of cells
  • analysis of liver cells treated with nanoparticles to quantify their uptake
  • study of stem cells as they undergo differentiation to understand how metal levels change with this process, and
  • investigation of how platinum and copper levels correlate in different cancer cell types – a key ARC-funded research area.

Oxford nanoimager

The Oxford nanoimager is a high-throughput super-resolution microscope for imaging nanoscale particles in biological systems, such as living cells, with unprecedented accuracy. The instrument represents the cutting edge in nanoprobe tools for nanobio-medicine, and provides a great opportunity for collaboration between two of the biggest interdisciplinary centres in the University – Sydney Nano and the drug discovery initiative.

It serves as the showcase instrument around which a number of early career researchers in nanoscience could build an interdisciplinary community in nanobio-medicine, such as nano surfaces for medical devices of the Charles Perkins Centre, nanobiosensors of Chemical Engineering and nano drug delivery systems of chemistry.

neaSNOM microscope

The NEASNOM microscope (NSM) establishes a unique capability within the School of Physics for experimental nanophotonics research, including:

  • Nanobiophotonics (light-biological material interactions) 
  • Light harvesting (light-organic material interactions)
  • Plasmonics (light-metal interactions)
  • Quantum Nanophotonics (light-matter interactions in the quantum regime)
  • Graphene Nanophotonics (light-graphene interactions).

The NSM system is capable of overcoming the diffraction limit by employing metal tips illuminated by a laser beam, which generates a nano-focus of approximately 10 nm. The backscattered light, which contains local optical properties information, is collected and analysed by a sophisticated interferometric technique, which eliminates the unwanted light and allows only the <1% small near-field signal to be collected. The resolution and the sensitivity of this system are maintained in a wide spectrum range from the visible (VIS) to the nearinfrared (NIR) and infrared. One such technique allows analysing the scattering signal in amplitude and phase, regardless the type of material probed.

This reflective and open design allows the system to be coupled to both a femtosecond pulsed and a supercontinuum lasers. The former can produce ultra-short laser pulses at different wavelengths, which would enable dynamic studies of light-matter interactions at the nanoscale maintaining an unmatched optical resolution. Furthermore, the NSM open design facilitates customised detection systems, which uses single photon detectors in a home-built interferometer. This configuration measures light at the single photon level and quantum photon correlations.