Sensitive detection and quantification of individual plasmonic nanoparticles is critical in a range of applications in the biological, nanomaterials, and analytical sciences. Although a wide range of techniques can be applied to the analysis of immobilized particles, high throughput analysis of nanoscale species in flow is surprisingly underdeveloped. To address this shortcoming, we present an ultrasensitive, background free technique based on the photothermal effect and termed differential detection photothermal interferometry (DDPI). We show, both theoretically and experimentally, that DDPI can specifically extract either the phase or amplitude of a photothermal signal. We then quantitatively detect 10 and 20 nm diameter gold nanoparticles at femtomolar concentrations and at linear flow speeds of 10 mm/s. In the case of 50 nm gold particles, we operate at an even higher linear flow speed of 100 mm/s, corresponding to an analyzed volume of more than 1 nL/s. This allows quantification of particle content at attomolar to femtomolar concentrations and counting rates between 0.1 and 400 particles per second. Finally, we confirm that the signal follows the size dependent variations predicted by Mie theory.
Analytical Chemistry, vol. 89 (3), pp. 1994-1999, Feb 2017.