Size and Refractive Index Determination of Subwavelength Particles and Air Bubbles by Holographic Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis
Journal article, 2020
Determination of size and refractive index (RI) of dispersed unlabeled subwavelength particles is of growing interest in several fields, including biotechnology, wastewater monitoring, and nanobubble preparations. Conventionally, the size distribution of such samples is determined via the Brownian motion of the particles, but simultaneous determination of their R1 remains challenging. This work demonstrates nanoparticle tracking analysis (NTA) in an off-axis digital holographic microscope (DHM) enabling determination of both particle size and RI of individual subwavelength particles from the combined information about size and optical phase shift. The potential of the method to separate particle populations is demonstrated by analyzing a mixture of three types of dielectric particles within a narrow size range, where conventional NTA methods based on Brownian motion alone would fail. Using this approach, the phase shift allowed individual populations of dielectric beads overlapping in either size or RI to be clearly distinguished and quantified with respect to these properties. The method was furthermore applied for analysis of surfactant-stabilized micro- and nanobubbles, with RI lower than that of water. Since bubbles induce a phase shift of opposite sign to that of solid particles, they were easily distinguished from similarly sized solid particles made up of undissolved surfactant. Surprisingly, the dependence of the phase shift on bubble size indicates that only those with 0.15-0.20 mu m radius were individual bubbles, whereas larger bubbles were actually clusters of bubbles. This label-free means to quantify multiple parameters of suspended individual submicrometer particles offers a crucial complement to current characterization strategies, suggesting broad applicability for a wide range of nanoparticle systems.