Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Ning Fang


Differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy is a far-field as well as wide-field optical imaging technique. Since it is non-invasive and requires no sample staining, DIC microscopy is suitable for tracking the motion of target molecules in live cells without interfering their functions. In addition, high numerical aperture objectives and condensers can be used in DIC microscopy. The depth of focus of DIC is shallow, which gives DIC much better optical sectioning ability than those of phase contrast and dark field microscopies. In this work, DIC was utilized to study dynamic biological processes including endocytosis and intracellular transport in live cells.

The suitability of DIC microscopy for single particle tracking in live cells was first demonstrated by using DIC to monitor the entire endocytosis process of one mesoporous silica nanoparticle (MSN) into a live mammalian cell. By taking advantage of the optical sectioning ability of DIC, we recorded the depth profile of the MSN during the endocytosis process. The shape change around the nanoparticle due to the formation of a vesicle was also captured.

DIC microscopy was further modified that the sample can be illuminated and imaged at two wavelengths simultaneously. By using the new technique, noble metal nanoparticles with different shapes and sizes were selectively imaged. Among all the examined metal nanoparticles, gold nanoparticles in rod shapes were found to be especially useful. Due to their anisotropic optical properties, gold nanorods showed as diffraction-limited spots with disproportionate bright and dark parts that are strongly dependent on their orientation in the 3D space. Gold nanorods were developed as orientation nanoprobes and were successfully used to report the self-rotation of gliding microtubules on kinesin coated substrates. Gold nanorods were further used to study the rotational motions of cargoes during the endocytosis and intracellular transport processes in live mammalian cells. New rotational information was obtained: (1) during endocytosis, cargoes lost their rotation freedom at the late stage of internalization; (2) cargoes performed train-like motion when they were transported along the microtubule network by motor proteins inside live cells; (3) During the pause stage of fast axonal transport, cargoes were still bound to the microtubule tracks by motor proteins.

Total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM) is another non-invasive and far-field optical imaging technique. Because of its near-field illumination mechanism, TIRFM has better axial resolution than epi-fluorescence microscopy and confocal microscopy. In this work, an auto-calibrated, prism type, angle-scanning TIRFM instrument was built. The incident angle can range from subcritical angles to nearly 90y, with an angle interval less than 0.2y. The angle precision of the new instrument was demonstrated through the finding of the surface plasmon resonance (SPR) angle of metal film coated glass slide. The new instrument improved significantly the precision in determining the axial position. As a result, the best obtained axial resolution was ~ 8 nm, which is better than current existing instruments similar in function.

The instrument was further modified to function as a pseudo TIRF microscope. The illumination depth can be controlled by changing the incident angle of the excitation laser beam or adjusting the horizontal position of the illumination laser spot on the prism top surface. With the new technique, i.e., variable-illumination-depth pseudo TIRF microscopy, the whole cell body from bottom to top was scanned.


Copyright Owner

Wei Sun



Date Available


File Format


File Size

213 pages

Included in

Chemistry Commons