These nanobarcodes could be used in a variety of sensing applications in the future. (Image Credit: University of Technology Sydney)


Barcodes are used to label and identify everyday items, but what if they could be shrunk a million times from millimeter to nanometer scale? Doing so allows them to be used in living cells to label, identify, and monitor life's building blocks. It could also be mixed into inks to prevent counterfeits. Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have developed a nanocrystal growth technique that controls the growth direction. This creates programmable atomic thin layers, arbitrary barcoded nanorods, with morphology uniformity. Ultimately, it results in millions of different types of nanobarcodes that form a library for future nanoscale sensing applications.


The team expects these barcode structures to generate interest in a range of applications as information nanocarriers for life sciences, bio-nanotechnology, and data storage, once integrated into various matrixes.

"The inorganic nanobarcode structures are rigid, and it is easy to control the composite, thickness and distance accuracy between different functional segments for geometrical barcoding beyond the optical diffraction limit. Because they are chemically and optically stable, the nanoscopic barcodes can be used as carriers for drug delivery and tracking into the cell, once the surface of the barcode structures is further modified and functionalized with probe molecules and cargos," Dr. Shihui Wen, from the UTS Institute of Biomedical Materials and Devices (IBMD), said.


The team discovered another breakthrough with a newly developed decoding system, using super-resolution nanoscopy to distinguish varying optical barcodes within the diffraction limit. They said there was no commercial system available for this type of super-resolution imaging.


"We had to build the instrumentation to diagnose the sophisticated functions that can be intentionally built into the tiny nanorod. These together allow us to unlock the further potential for placing atomic molecules where we want them so we can continue to miniaturize devices. This was the first time we were able to use super-resolution system to probe, activate and readout the specific functional segment within the nanorod.” UTS UBMD Director, Professor Dayong Jin said.


"Imagine a tiny device, smaller than one-thousandth the width of a human hair, and we can selectively activate a particular region of that device, see the optical properties, quantify them. This is the science now showing many new possibilities," he said.

The researchers also think the nanoscale optical devices could be used to tag different cellular species.


"These devices are also readily applicable for high-security-level anticounterfeiting when different batches of them are blended with inks and can be readily printed on high-value products for authentication." Dr. Wen said.


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