Terahertz probe of individual subwavelength objects in a water environment
Luca Masini, Sandro Meucci, Jihua Xu, Riccardo Degl'Innocenti, Fabrizio Castellano, Harvey E. Beere, David Ritchie, Donatella Balduzzi, Roberto Puglisi, Andrea Galli, Fabio Beltram, Miriam S. Vitiello, Marco Cecchini and Alessandro Tredicucci
Article first published online: 4 JUN 2014 | DOI: 10.1002/lpor.201300224
Terahertz (THz) spectroscopy and imaging have been heralded for some time as potentially revolutionary techniques for biomedical applications. Label-free detection of molecules and recognition of molecular events are often mentioned as the most exciting possibilities. A crucial practical goal, however, is the ability to perform such measurements on tiny amounts of biological fluids or even on individual organic structures. Living cells, for instance, have diameters at most of some tens of micrometers, i.e. at least λ/10 even for few-THz radiation. Furthermore, all analyses relevant for a biological perspective must be performed in a water environment, which presents a strong absorption across the whole THz spectral range, severely limiting the penetration of the electromagnetic field. Here, it is shown how both issues can be overcome with a lab-on-a-chip approach based on a microfluidic platform coupled to a plasmonic antenna. Using a quantum cascade laser as THz illumination source, liquid volumes down to the picoliter range are probed and direct operation on individual 10-µm diameter microparticles flowing in water is shown. The present demonstration opens the way to the development of THz biosensing of individual living cells and small probe volumes.