Abstract

Optical multiplexing plays an important role in applications such as optical data storage1, document security2, molecular probes3,4 and bead assays for personalized medicine5. Conventional fluorescent colour coding is limited by spectral overlap and background interference, restricting the number of distinguishable identities. Here, we show that tunable luminescent lifetimes τ in the microsecond region can be exploited to code individual upconversion nanocrystals. In a single colour band, one can generate more than ten nanocrystal populations with distinct lifetimes ranging from 25.6 µs to 662.4 µs and decode their well-separated lifetime identities, which are independent of both colour and intensity. Such ‘τ-dots’ potentially suit multichannel bioimaging, high-throughput cytometry quantification, high-density data storage, as well as security codes to combat counterfeiting. This demonstration extends the optical multiplexing capability by adding the temporal dimension of luminescent signals, opening new opportunities in the life sciences, medicine and data security.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank D. Birch for sample characterization and F. Chi for technical assistance. This project was financially supported by the Australian Research Council (DP 1095465), the China Scholarship Council and Macquarie University Postgraduate Research Scholarships. Y.Lu and D.J. acknowledge the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry for support as ISAC Scholars. P.X. acknowledges support from the ‘973’ programme of China (2011CB707502, 2011CB809101). D.J. and A.S. acknowledge support through Macquarie University Vice-Chancellor's Innovation Fellowships.

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Affiliations

  1. Advanced Cytometry Laboratories, MQ Photonics Research Centre and MQ BioFocus Research Centre, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia

    • Yiqing Lu
    • , Jiangbo Zhao
    • , Run Zhang
    • , Yujia Liu
    • , Deming Liu
    • , Ewa M. Goldys
    • , Jie Lu
    • , Yu Shi
    • , James A. Piper
    •  & Dayong Jin
  2. Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Sciences, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia

    • Run Zhang
    • , Anwar Sunna
    • , Jie Lu
    • , Yu Shi
    •  & Dayong Jin
  3. Department of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Yujia Liu
    • , Xusan Yang
    •  & Peng Xi
  4. School of Biomedical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Shanghai, China

    • Yujia Liu
  5. Newport Instruments, 3345 Hopi Place, San Diego, California 92117-3516, USA

    • Robert C. Leif
  6. Department of Electronic Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Yujing Huo
  7. Olympus Australia, 82 Waterloo Road, North Ryde, New South Wales 2113, Australia

    • Jian Shen
  8. Purdue University Cytometry Laboratories, Bindley Bioscience Center, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907, USA

    • J. Paul Robinson
    •  & Dayong Jin

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Contributions

D.J., J.A.P., R.C.L. and J.P.R. conceived the project. D.J. designed the experiments and supervised the research. Y.Lu, J.Z. and D.J. were primarily responsible for data collection and analysis. Y.Lu, E.M.G. and D.J. prepared figures and wrote the main manuscript text. Y.Lu, J.Z., R.Z., D.L. and D.J. were primarily responsible for the Supplementary Information. All authors contributed to data analysis, discussions and manuscript preparation.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dayong Jin.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nphoton.2013.322

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