Label-free plasmonic biosensors rely either on surface plasmon polaritons or on localized surface plasmons on continuous or nanostructured noble-metal surfaces to detect molecular-binding events. Despite undisputed advantages, including spectral tunability, strong enhancement of the local electric field and much better adaptability to modern nanobiotechnology architectures, localized plasmons demonstrate orders of magnitude lower sensitivity compared with their guided counterparts. Here, we demonstrate an improvement in biosensing technology using a plasmonic metamaterial that is capable of supporting a guided mode in a porous nanorod layer. Benefiting from a substantial overlap between the probing field and the active biological substance incorporated between the nanorods and a strong plasmon-mediated energy confinement inside the layer, this metamaterial provides an enhanced sensitivity to refractive-index variations of the medium between the rods (more than 30,000 nm per refractive-index unit). We demonstrate the feasibility of our approach using a standard streptavidin-biotin affinity model and record considerable improvement in the detection limit of small analytes compared with conventional label-free plasmonic devices.
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