Several recently developed detection techniques opened studies of individual metal nanoparticles (1–100 nm in diameter) in the optical far field. Eliminating averaging over the broad size and shape distributions produced by even the best of current synthesis methods, these studies hold great promise for gaining a deeper insight into many of the properties of metal nanoparticles, notably electronic and vibrational relaxation. All methods are based on detection of a scattered wave emitted either by the particle itself, or by its close environment. Direct absorption and interference techniques rely on the particle’s scattering and have similar limits in signal-to-noise ratio. The photothermal method uses a photo-induced change in the refractive index of the environment as an additional step to scatter a wave with a different wavelength. This leads to a considerable improvement in signal-to-background ratio, and thus to a much higher sensitivity. We briefly discuss and compare these various techniques, review the new results they generated so far, and conclude on their great potential for nanoscience and for single-molecule labelling in biological assays and live cells.
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