Light used to make gold crystal nanoparticles

A team of University of Florida researchers has figured out how gold can be used in crystals grown by light to create nanoparticles, a discovery that has major implications for industry and cancer treatment and could improve the function of pharmaceuticals, medical equipment and solar panels.

Nanoparticles can be “grown” in crystal formations with special use of light, in a process called plasmon-driven synthesis. However, scientists have had limited control unless they used silver, but silver limits the uses for medical technology. The team is the first to successfully use gold, which works well within the human body, with this process.

“How does light actually play a role in the synthesis? [This knowledge] was not well developed,” said David Wei, an associate professor of chemistry who led the research team. “Gold was the model system to demonstrate this.”

Gold is highly desired for nanotechnology because it is malleable, does not react with oxygen and conducts heat well. Those properties make gold an ideal material for nanoparticles, especially those that will be placed in the body.

The influence of plasmonic hotspots on Au nanoprism growth

Nature nanotechnology – Polyvinylpyrrolidone-induced anisotropic growth of gold nanoprisms in plasmon-driven synthesis

When polyvinylpyrrolidone, or PVP, a substance commonly found in pharmaceutical tablets, is used in the plasmon-driven synthesis, it enables scientists to better control the growth of crystals. In Wei’s research, PVP surprised the team by showing its potential to relay light-generated “hot” electrons to a gold surface to grow the crystals.

The research describes the first plasmonic synthesis strategy that can make high-yield gold nanoprisms. Even more exciting, the team has demonstrated that visible-range and low-power light can be used in the synthesis. Combined with nanoparticles being used in solar photovoltaic devices, this method can even harness solar energy for chemical synthesis, to make nanomaterials or for general applications in chemistry.


After more than a decade, it is still unknown whether the plasmon-mediated growth of silver nanostructures can be extended to the synthesis of other noble metals, as the molecular mechanisms governing the growth process remain elusive. Herein, we demonstrate the plasmon-driven synthesis of gold nanoprisms and elucidate the details of the photochemical growth mechanism at the single-nanoparticle level. Our investigation reveals that the surfactant polyvinylpyrrolidone preferentially adsorbs along the nanoprism perimeter and serves as a photochemical relay to direct the anisotropic growth of gold nanoprisms. This discovery confers a unique function to polyvinylpyrrolidone that is fundamentally different from its widely accepted role as a crystal-face-blocking ligand. Additionally, we find that nanocrystal twinning exerts a profound influence on the kinetics of this photochemical process by controlling the transport of plasmon-generated hot electrons to polyvinylpyrrolidone. These insights establish a molecular-level description of the underlying mechanisms regulating the plasmon-driven synthesis of gold nanoprisms.

SOURCES – Nature Nanotechnology, University of Florida

About The Author