Unwelcomed biofilms are problematic in food industries, surgical devices, marine applications, and wastewater treatment plants, essentially everywhere where there is moisture. Very recently, label-free advanced sensors such as localized and extended surface plasmon resonance (SPR) have been explored as tools for monitoring biofilm formation. However, conventional noble metal SPR substrates suffer from low penetration depth (100–300 nm) into the dielectric medium above the surface, preventing the reliable detection of large entities of single or multi-layered cell assemblies like biofilms which can grow up to a few micrometers or more. In this study, we propose using a plasmonic insulator-metal-insulator (IMI) structure (SiO2–Ag–SiO2) with a higher penetration depth based on a diverging beam single wavelength format of Kretschmann configuration in a portable SPR device. An SPR line detection algorithm for locating the reflectance minimum of the device helps to view changes in refractive index and accumulation of the biofilm in real-time down to 10−7 RIU precision. The optimized IMI structure exhibits strong penetration dependence on wavelength and incidence angle. Within the plasmonic resonance, different angles penetrate different depths, showing a maximum near the critical angle. At the wavelength of 635 nm, a high penetration depth of more than 4 μm was obtained. Compared to a thin gold film substrate, for which the penetration depth is only ∼200 nm, the IMI substrate provides more reliable results. The average thickness of the biofilm after 24 h of growth was found to be between 6 and 7 μm with ∼63% live cell volume, as estimated from confocal microscopic images using an image processing tool. To explain this saturation thickness, a graded index biofilm structure is proposed in which the refractive index decreases with the distance from the interface. Furthermore, when plasma-assisted degeneration of biofilms was studied in a semi-real-time format, there was almost no effect on the IMI substrate compared to the gold substrate. The growth rate over the SiO2 surface was higher than on gold, possibly due to differences between surface charge effects. On the gold, the excited plasmon generates an oscillating cloud of electrons, while for the SiO2 case, this does not happen. This methodology can be utilized to detect and characterize biofilms with better signal reliability with respect to concentration and size dependence.
- Portable SPR
- Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR)
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biomedical Engineering