Biomacromolecular stereostructure mediates mode hybridization in chiral plasmonic nanostructures

Jack, Calum and Karimullah, Affar S. and Leyman, Ross and Tullius, Ryan and Rotello, Vincent M. and Cooke, Graeme and Gadegaard, Nikolaj and Barron, Laurence D. and Kadodwala, Malcolm (2016) Biomacromolecular stereostructure mediates mode hybridization in chiral plasmonic nanostructures. Nano Letters, 16 (9). 5806–5814. ISSN 1530-6992 (

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The refractive index sensitivity of plasmonic fields has been exploited for over 20 years in analytical technologies. While this sensitivity can be used to achieve attomole detection levels, they are in essence binary measurements that sense the presence/absence of a predetermined analyte. Using plasmonic fields, not to sense effective refractive indices but to provide more "granular" information about the structural characteristics of a medium, provides a more information rich output, which affords opportunities to create new powerful and flexible sensing technologies not limited by the need to synthesize chemical recognition elements. Here we report a new plasmonic phenomenon that is sensitive to the biomacromolecular structure without relying on measuring effective refractive indices. Chiral biomaterials mediate the hybridization of electric and magnetic modes of a chiral solid-inverse plasmonic structure, resulting in a measurable change in both reflectivity and chiroptical properties. The phenomenon originates from the electric-dipole–magnetic-dipole response of the biomaterial and is hence sensitive to biomacromolecular secondary structure providing unique fingerprints of α-helical, β-sheet, and disordered motifs. The phenomenon can be observed for subchiral plasmonic fields (i.e., fields with a lower chiral asymmetry than circularly polarized light) hence lifting constraints to engineer structures that produce fields with enhanced chirality, thus providing greater flexibility in nanostructure design. To demonstrate the efficacy of the phenomenon, we have detected and characterized picogram quantities of simple model helical biopolymers and more complex real proteins.