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Luminescent surfaces with tailored angular emission for compact dark-field imaging devices


Dark-field microscopy is a standard imaging technique widely employed in biology that provides high image contrast for a broad range of unstained specimens1. Unlike bright-field microscopy, it accentuates high spatial frequencies and can therefore be used to emphasize and resolve small features. However, the use of dark-field microscopy for reliable analysis of blood cells, bacteria, algae and other marine organisms often requires specialized, bulky microscope systems, as well as expensive additional components, such as dark-field-compatible objectives or condensers2,3. Here, we propose to simplify and downsize dark-field microscopy equipment by generating the high-angle illumination cone required for dark-field microscopy directly within the sample substrate. We introduce a luminescent photonic substrate with a controlled angular emission profile and demonstrate its ability to generate high-contrast dark-field images of micrometre-sized living organisms using standard optical microscopy equipment. This new type of substrate forms the basis for miniaturized lab-on-chip dark-field imaging devices that are compatible with simple and compact light microscopes.

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Fig. 1: The concept of SLED.
Fig. 2: The fabricated SLED surface.
Fig. 3: Optical characteristics of the light-emitting surfaces.
Fig. 4: Application of the SLED surfaces to image colloids and marine microorganisms.
Fig. 5: Modelling to compare image formation with SLED illumination and bright-field illumination.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

The MATLAB codes used to model the surfaces’ emission properties and partially coherent imaging are available for download from


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We thank E. Shirman and T. Shirman for their guidance in designing the multiple-step moulding process used for fabricating the micropatterned bottom reflectors. C.A.C.C. and M.K. acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation through the ‘Designing Materials to Revolutionize and Engineer our Future’ programme (DMREF-1922321) and from the US Army Research Office through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT under contract no. W911NF-13-D-0001. P.T.C.S. and C.J.R. acknowledge support from NIH 9P41EB015871.

Author information




M.K. and C.A.C.C. conceived the research. C.A.C.C. designed and built the dark-field devices from the master that M.R.J.S. created. K.B. and Y.K. provided advice to optimize the microfabrication process. M.K. and C.A.C.C. wrote the MATLAB code for optical modelling. C.J.R. and P.T.C.S. provided advice to build the optical characterization set-up that C.A.C.C., C.J.R. and S.N. implemented onto a microscope for emission characterization of the SLED devices. I.C. and M.G.B. synthesized the QDs that were used in the SLED devices. C.A.C.C. and M.K. wrote the manuscript. All authors commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mathias Kolle.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–6, Supplementary Discussion and details on modelling.

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Chazot, C.A.C., Nagelberg, S., Rowlands, C.J. et al. Luminescent surfaces with tailored angular emission for compact dark-field imaging devices. Nat. Photonics 14, 310–315 (2020).

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