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Intracellular microlasers


Optical microresonators1, which confine light within a small cavity, are widely exploited for various applications ranging from the realization of lasers2 and nonlinear devices3,4,5 to biochemical and optomechanical sensing6,7,8,9,10,11. Here we use microresonators and suitable optical gain materials inside biological cells to demonstrate various optical functions in vitro including lasing. We explore two distinct types of microresonator—soft and hard—that support whispering-gallery modes. Soft droplets formed by injecting oil or using natural lipid droplets support intracellular laser action. The laser spectra from oil-droplet microlasers can chart cytoplasmic internal stress (500 pN μm–2) and its dynamic fluctuations at a sensitivity of 20 pN μm–2 (20 Pa). In a second form, whispering-gallery modes within phagocytized polystyrene beads of different sizes enable individual tagging of thousands of cells easily and, in principle, a much larger number by multiplexing with different dyes.

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Figure 1: Injected oil droplet laser.
Figure 2: Adipocyte lasers.
Figure 3: Three different types of solid intracellular microcavity.
Figure 4: Tagging and sensing applications of solid intracellular microcavities.
Figure 5: Size of intracellular microlasers.


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This research was supported in part by the US National Science Foundation (NSF; ECCS-1101947, EEC-1358296, ECCS-1505569) and the National Institutes of Health (P41 EB015903). M.H. was supported in part by the Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship no. 627274 within the 7th European Community Framework Programme. The authors thank J. Zhao and Wellman Centre Photopathology Core for technical support. Part of this work was performed at the Centre for Nanoscale Systems (CNS) at Harvard University, which is a member of the National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network (NNIN) and supported by the NSF under award no. ECS-0335765.

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M.H. and S.H.Y. designed the study. M.H. carried out the experiments and analysed the data. M.H. and S.H.Y. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Seok Hyun Yun.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Humar, M., Hyun Yun, S. Intracellular microlasers. Nature Photon 9, 572–576 (2015).

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