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Nanometre-scale thermometry in a living cell


Sensitive probing of temperature variations on nanometre scales is an outstanding challenge in many areas of modern science and technology1. In particular, a thermometer capable of subdegree temperature resolution over a large range of temperatures as well as integration within a living system could provide a powerful new tool in many areas of biological, physical and chemical research. Possibilities range from the temperature-induced control of gene expression2,3,4,5 and tumour metabolism6 to the cell-selective treatment of disease7,8 and the study of heat dissipation in integrated circuits1. By combining local light-induced heat sources with sensitive nanoscale thermometry, it may also be possible to engineer biological processes at the subcellular level2,3,4,5. Here we demonstrate a new approach to nanoscale thermometry that uses coherent manipulation of the electronic spin associated with nitrogen–vacancy colour centres in diamond. Our technique makes it possible to detect temperature variations as small as 1.8 mK (a sensitivity of 9 mK Hz−1/2) in an ultrapure bulk diamond sample. Using nitrogen–vacancy centres in diamond nanocrystals (nanodiamonds), we directly measure the local thermal environment on length scales as short as 200 nanometres. Finally, by introducing both nanodiamonds and gold nanoparticles into a single human embryonic fibroblast, we demonstrate temperature-gradient control and mapping at the subcellular level, enabling unique potential applications in life sciences.

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Figure 1: Nitrogen–vacancy-based nanoscale thermometry.
Figure 2: Sensitivity of single nitrogen–vacancy thermometer.
Figure 3: Submicrometre thermometry using nanodiamonds.
Figure 4: Nanoscale thermometry in cells.


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We thank R. Walsworth, V. Denic, C. Latta, L. Jiang, A. Gorshkov, P. Cappellaro, A. Sushkov and I. Lovchinsky for discussions and help with experiments. This work was supported by the NSF, the Center for Ultracold Atoms, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (QUASAR programme), the Army Research Office (MURI programme), the Packard Foundation, NIH Pioneer Awards (5DP1OD003893-03), the NHGRI (1P50HG006193-01) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (PBSKP2_143918) (P.C.M.).

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P.C.M., H.J.N., H.P. and M.D.L. developed the idea for the study. G.K., P.C.M. and N.Y.Y. designed and conducted the experiments and analysed the data. M.K., P.K.L. and H.P. prepared the biological samples. All authors participated in discussions and writing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to H. Park or M. D. Lukin.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kucsko, G., Maurer, P., Yao, N. et al. Nanometre-scale thermometry in a living cell. Nature 500, 54–58 (2013).

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