Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Ning Fang


While conventional Single Particle Tracking (SPT) techniques acquire 2D or 3D trajectories of particle probes, we have developed Single Particle Orientation and Rotational Tracking (SPORT) techniques to extract orientation and rotational information. Combined with DIC microscopy, the SPORT technique has been applied in biophysical studies, including membrane diffusion and intracellular transport.

The rotational dynamics of nanoparticle vectors on live cell membranes was recorded and its influence on the fate of these nanoparticle vectors was elucidated. The rotational motions of gold nanorods with various surface modifiers were tracked continuously at a temporal resolution of 5 ms under a DIC microscope. We found that the rotational behaviors of gold nanorod vectors are strongly related to their surface charge, specific surface functional groups, and the availability of receptors on cell membranes. The study of rotational Brownian motion of nanoparticles on cell membranes will lead to a better understanding of the mechanisms of drug delivery and provide guidance in designing surface modification strategies for drug delivery vectors under various circumstances.

To characterize the rotation mode of surface functionalized gold nanorods on cell membranes, the SPORT technique is combined with the correlation analysis of the bright and dark DIC intensities. The unique capabilities of visualizing and understanding rotational motions of functionalized nanoparticles on live cell membranes allow us to correlate rotational and translational dynamics in unprecedented detail and provide new insights for complex membrane processes, including electrostatic interactions, ligand-receptor binding, and lateral (confined and hopping) diffusion of membrane receptors. Surface-functionalized nanoparticles interact with the membrane in fundamentally different ways and exhibit distinct rotational modes. The early events of particle-membrane approach and attachment are directly visualized for the first time.

The rotational dynamics of cargos in both active directional transport and pausing stages of axonal transport was also visualized using high-speed SPORT with a temporal resolution of 2 ms. Both long and short pauses are imaged, and the correlations between the pause duration, the rotational behaviour of the cargo at the pause, and the moving direction after the pause are established. Furthermore, the rotational dynamics leading to switching tracks are visualized in detail. These first-time observations of cargo's rotational dynamics provide new insights on how kinesin and dynein motors take the cargo through the alternating stages of active directional transport and pause.

To improve the localization precision of the SPT technique with DIC microscopy, a precise three-dimensional (3D) localization method of spherical gold nanoparticle probes using model-based correlation coefficient mapping was introduced. To accomplish this, a stack of sample images at different z-positions are acquired, and a 3D intensity profile of the probe serving as the model is used to map out the positions of nanoparticles in the sample. By using this model-based correlation imaging method, precise localization can be achieved in imaging techniques with complicated point spread functions (PSF) such as differential interference contrast (DIC) microscopy. The 3D superlocalization method was applied to tracking gold nanospheres during live endocytosis events.

Finally, a novel dual-modality imaging technique has been developed to super-localize a single gold nanorod while providing its orientation and rotational information. The super-localization of the gold nanorod can be accomplished by curve fitting the modified bright-field images generated by one of the two beams laterally shifted by the first Nomarski prism in a DIC microscope. The orientation and rotational information is derived from the DIC images of gold nanorods. The new imaging setup has been applied to study the steric hindrance induced by relatively large cargos in the microtubule gliding assay and to track nanocargos in the crowded cellular environment.

Copyright Owner

Yan Gu



File Format


File Size

246 pages

Included in

Chemistry Commons