Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry

, Volume 408, Issue 11, pp 2913–2925 | Cite as

A job for quantum dots: use of a smartphone and 3D-printed accessory for all-in-one excitation and imaging of photoluminescence

  • Eleonora Petryayeva
  • W. Russ Algar
Paper in Forefront
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Young Investigators in Analytical and Bioanalytical Science


Point-of-care (POC) diagnostic technologies are needed to improve global health and smartphones are a prospective platform for these technologies. While many fluorescence or photoluminescence-based smartphone assays have been reported in the literature, common shortcomings are the requirement of an excitation light source external to the smartphone and complicated integration of that excitation source with the smartphone. Here, we show that the photographic flash associated with the smartphone camera can be utilized to enable all-in-one excitation and imaging of photoluminescence (PL), thus eliminating the need for an excitation light source external to the smartphone. A simple and low-cost 3D-printed accessory was designed to create a dark environment and direct excitation light from the smartphone flash onto a sample. Multiple colors and compositions of semiconductor quantum dot (QD) were evaluated as photoluminescent materials for all-in-one smartphone excitation and imaging of PL, and these were compared with fluorescein and R-phycoerythrin (R-PE), which are widely utilized molecular and protein materials for fluorescence-based bioanalysis. The QDs were found to exhibit much better brightness and have the best potential for two-color detection. A model protein binding assay with a sub-microgram per milliliter detection limit and a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) assay for proteolytic activity were demonstrated, including imaging with serum as a sample matrix. In addition, FRET within tandem conjugates of a QD donor and fluorescent dye acceptor enabled smartphone detection of dye fluorescence that was otherwise unobservable without the QD to enhance its brightness. The ideal properties of photoluminescent materials for all-in-one smartphone excitation and imaging are discussed in the context of several different materials, where QDs appear to be the best overall material for this application.

Graphical Abstract

Bioanalytical assays with a smartphone and 3D-printed accessory for imaging photoluminescence from quantum dots


Point-of-care diagnostics Quantum dots Fluorescence FRET Smartphone 3D printing 



EP is grateful to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for a postgraduate scholarship and to the University of British Columbia (UBC) for a 4YF fellowship. The authors thank the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), British Columbia Knowledge Development Fund (BCKDF), and NSERC for support of this research. WRA is also grateful for a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) and a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar Award. The authors thank Pritesh Padhiar in the UBC Department of Chemistry Mechanical Engineering Shop for assistance with 3D printing, and Erin M. Conroy for providing the A610-labeled peptide.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

216_2015_9300_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (4.3 mb)
ESM 1 (PDF 4452 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ChemistryUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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