Probing a living cell through a nanotube

The hybrid nanoscale system developed by Prof. Lieber’s team provides a unique approach for recording intracellular electrical signals. The system consists of a hollow nanotube, which serves as a probe, and a Si nanowire based field-effect transistor (FET), which serves as a signal convertor and collector. The small 50~100 nm nanotube probe introduces only negligible invasiveness to the cell during a measurement. The electrical potential signal produced by a living cell is captured and transmitted by the nanotube, and then the potential signal is converted into a current or a conductance signal by the nanoscale FET, which is in direct contact with the other end of the nanotube. Compared with the original potential signal, the converted current/conductance signal is much less likely to be interfered by the environment, and therefore, the measurement is much more reliable and reproducible. A demonstration on a living cardiomyocyte cell successfully showed this technology’s capability of capturing detailed features of an intracellular action potential change from inside the cell. In addition, the nanocale system is proven to be responsive enough to capture a potential change occurring within 0.1 micro-seconds without any lag.


Every second, electrophysiological processes occur in living cells. Understanding these processes is crucial for decoding cells’ network behaviors. To date, limited tools exist to perform accurate measurements of electrical signals inside living cells. A team of researchers, led by Prof. Lieber have invented a hybrid nanoscale device/system, to record the features of intracellular potential changes in living cells. This nanoscale device/system can be integrated into existing electrophysiology instruments, to be applied to fundamental studies of intracellular electrophysiological processes.

Intellectual Property Status: Patent(s) Pending