Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis Concentration Zeta Potential Fluorescence Size Colocalization

Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis


Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis (NTA) is a technique to characterize nanoparticles in suspension in the size range of 10 – 2000 nm. A microscopic setup allows real-time visualization of particles below the diffraction limit of conventional microscopes, in both scatter and fluorescence mode. A broad range of applications from nano-sized metallic particles to polymers and biological nanoparticles such as viruses or extracellular vesicles makes NTA a versatile method for sizing – independent of the refractive index of the particle material.

Application Range

Traditionally, NTA has been used for concentration and size measurement of nanoparticles dispersed in a medium. In addition, Particle Metrix ZetaView® provides zeta potential for surface charge and characterization of fluorescently labeled bionanoparticles. This enables NTA to perform multiparameter measurements for all types of particles on the same sample, saving operator time and sample quantity. Applications of NTA range from quantifying the size, concentration or zeta potential of inorganic particles such as silicon dioxide, polymers, calcites, phosphates, barium sulfate to carbon nanotubes or nanobubbles. Furthermore, all types of bionanoparticles (BNP) such as protein aggregates, extracellular particles (such as exosomes or EVs), viruses or liposomes can be analyzed and by fluorescence labeling without any additives.

Metallic Nanoparticles

Metallic Nanoparticles

  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Platinum
  • Extracellular Vesicles

    Extracellular Vesicles

  • Cell line-derived EVs
  • EVs from human plasma
  • EVs from body fluids (blood, urine, saliva, stomach, breast milk)
  • Plant and fungus EVs
  • Inorganic Particles

    Inorganic Particles

  • SiO2 silica particles
  • Minerals: oxides, carbonates, phosphates, sulfates and others
  • Polymers
  • Viruses


  • Phages
  • HIV
  • Sars-Cov-II
  • Virus-like particles (VLCs)
  • Special "Particles"

    Special "Particles"

  • Carbon Nanotubes
  • Nanodiamonds
  • Nanobubbles
  • Bionanoparticles


  • Functionalized gold particles
  • Bio-conjugated polystyrene
  • Protein aggregates
  • Magnetic Particles

    Magnetic Particles

  • Magnetite particles
  • Super paramagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs)
  • Fluorescent Standard Particles

    Fluorescent Standard Particles

  • Nanosized rainbow beads
  • Single and multi-labelled particles CdS/ZnS, CdSe quantum dots (QDs)
  • History

    In 1828, Brown discovered the random walk behavior of pollen [1]. However, it took about 80 years to lay the theoretical foundation for the method named after him: Brownian motion analysis [2, 3]. In the early 1990s, there were the first publications on the use of computers for the automated analysis of images [4]. Commercial implementation of this technique required the availability of fast computer systems that allowed computationally intensive video analysis in reasonable time frames.
    Today, NTA is an established technique for the characterization of nanoparticles; a detailed procedure for the practical procedure for NTA measurement is given in the ASTM standard for NTA measurements [5]. For the characterization of bionanoparticles, Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis is part of the “Minimal information for studies of EVs” (MISEV) [6-8].

    Physical Principle

    The particles in the sample are visualized by illumination with a laser beam. The scattered light from the particles is recorded with a light-sensitive CMOS camera chip placed at a 90° angle to the illumination plane. The setup, also known as ultra microscopy, [9] allows detection and recording of each individual particle below the size limit of typical microscopes. The size of each particle is calculated by Brownian motion analysis of the individual tracks, allowing simultaneous determination of size and concentration.

    Physical Principle of Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis

    A brief introduction to the physical principle underlying NTA is as follows:
    When small particles are dispersed in a liquid, the particles move randomly in all directions. The liquid is also called the continuous phase and is typically water, PBS, or physiological buffer, but can also be an organic solvent such as ethanol or cyclohexane. The phenomenon of random motion is termed diffusion and is expressed by the diffusion coefficient D . More specifically, the undirected migration of given particles is caused by energy transfer from surrounding water molecules to the particle. The theory for determining the diffusion coefficient was developed by the famous physicist Albert Einstein [2]. In the absence of a concentration gradient within the dispersion and with long-term observation, the distance traveled by small particle in any direction should cancel out over time, so that the total motion is nearly zero. However, during certain time intervals, diffusing particles move within certain volume elements. In NTA the time t between two observations is quite short (~30 ms). The motion of particles per time interval is recorded and quantified as the mean square displacement . Depending on the number of dimensions (one, two or all three dimensions) the observed mean square displacement, the diffusion coefficient, can be calculated as follows:

    D = \dfrac{<x^2>}{2t}
    D = \dfrac{\overline{<x,y>^2}}{4t}
    D = \dfrac{\overline{<x,y,z>^2}}{6t}

    Using the Stokes-Einstein relationship the particle diameter d can be calculated as function of the diffusion coefficient D at a temperature T and a viscosity η of the liquid ( k_B Boltzmann constant),

    D = \dfrac{4k_BT}{3πηd}

    In Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis, the particle fluctuation of a single particle is recorded in two dimensions. After combining the Stokes-Einstein relationship and the two-dimensional mean square displacement, the equation for the particle diameter d can be solved with:

    \dfrac{\overline{<x,y>^2}}{4t} = \dfrac{4k_BT}{3πηd}
    d = \dfrac{16k_BTt}{3πη \overline{<x,y>^2}}

    Size Range

    The lower limit of the working range i.e. the smallest detectable particle size, depends on the scattering intensity of the particle, the efficiency of the magnification optics and the sensitivity of the camera. Metallic nanoparticles are strong scatterers due to their comparatively large refractive index, allowing detection down to sizes of ~10 nm. Biological nanoparticles such as EVs have refractive indices of around 1.37-1.45 resulting in a limit of detection of 30-50 nm for Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis [10].

    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis
    is a Sensitive Technique

    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis achieves low concentrations of ~105 particles per mL, and can even be used for detecting certain tracing impurities. Typically, impurities can originate in the form of particles from the buffer (distilled water or buffering agents) and are unknowingly generated during sample preparation as precipitates of phosphates, carbonates or silicates, or as bubbles. When used at high concentrations near their critical micellar concentration (CMC), stabilizing agents such as surfactants are likely to show foaming  and generate nanobubbles. The high sensitivity of NTA is ensured by filtration of buffers, degassing and verified by blank controls.

    To understand the underlying processes in your sample, zeta potential measurement and fluorescence detection are integrated for comprising particle characterization. Subpopulation detection based on multivariate statistics takes resolution of NTA to the next level.

    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis
    is a Multi-Parameter Technique

    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis | Particle Metrix ZetaView® Icon Subpolulations



    For complex samples, such as mixtures of similar size and different materials, subpopulation analysis gives deeper insight in sample heterogeneity. Physical image parameters such as scattering intensity and object area of individual particles expand the application range and increase resolution.
    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis |Particle Metrix ZetaView® Icon Size


    Particle Size Distribution

    The particle size of single particles is calculated using Brownian motion analysis. A particle size distribution is created by accumulation of several 100 to 1000 individual particles. The size measurement can be combined with zeta potential measurement and object characteristics such as particle intensity and area.
    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis |Particle Metrix ZetaView® Icon Fluorescence


    Fluorescence Detection

    The detection of fluorescence, eg. vesicles tagged with a fluorescently labelled antibodies allows biospecific nanoparticle characterization. ZetaView® features up to four lasers from 405 to 660 nm in a small-footprint-housing, enabling the user to select fluorescent dyes of choice such as Alexa®Fluor, GFP/YFP/RFP, PE, APC or membrane dyes.
    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis |Particle Metrix ZetaView® Icon Zeta Potential

    Zeta Potential

    Zeta Potential

    The zeta potential reflects the surface charge of certain particles, which is related to their stability due to electrostatic forces. When the zeta potential is higher than absolute 25 mV the suspension is considered stable and less likely to aggregate. Similarly, zeta potential NTA (Z-NTA) analysis helps to monitor quality of synthesis steps, when the particle surface is conjugated with proteins or a dye.
    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis |Particle Metrix ZetaView® Icon Concentration



    Knowing the measurement volume, the concentration is determined by counting all objects in the field of view. Particle concentration can be expressed in number of particles per cm3 as well as in area and volume, which distinguishes the NTA technique as an absolute measurement. For higher precision, the instrument can be calibrated with customized size standards of known material, size and concentration. The working range of 105 and 109 particles per cm3 is lower compared to Dynamic Light Scattering (DLS), allowing NTA to analyze low-concentrated samples.
    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis |Particle Metrix ZetaView® Icon Colocalization



    Quantification of colocalization ratios is a challenging task for bioanalytical analyzers. Providing the necessary conditions such as quasi-simultaneous switching between fluorescence channels as well perfect overlap of illumination volumes, ZetaView® enables the user to quantify colocalization ratios of biomarkers with a fully automated NTA measurement.


    Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis is a particle characterization technique for virtually all types of nanoparticles suspended in media. On the same sample, the size, concentration, zeta potential and fluorescence on the same sample are measured.

    The highlights of this technique are:

    • Colocalization
    • Characterization of nanoparticles in solution
    • Measurement at comparatively low concentration levels (down to 105 particles per cm3)
    • Single particle analysis resulting in high-resolution distributions
    • Specificity with fluorescent detection

    NTA is a fast single particle analysis tool for visualization and quantification of subpopulations, size, fluorescence, surface charge (zeta potential) and concentration.


    [1] Brown, Robert (1828). “A brief account of microscopical observations made in the months of June, July and August, 1827, on the particles contained in the pollen of plants; and on the general existence of active molecules in organic and inorganic bodies” (PDF). Philosophical Magazine. 4 (21): 161–173. doi:10.1080/14786442808674769

    [2] Einstein, A., Annalen der Physik, 19 (1906), Seiten 371-381, Zur Theorie der Brownschen Bewegung

    [3] Smoluchowski, von, M., Annalen der Physik, 14, Seiten 756-780, 1906, Zur kinetischen Theorie der Brownschen Molekularbewegung und der Suspensionen

    [4] Qian, H., Sheets, M. P., Elson, E. L., Single particle tracking, Biophys J. 1991 Oct; 60(4): 910–921. doi: 10.1016/S0006-3495(91)82125-7

    [5] ASTM E2834-12, Standard Guide for Measurement of Particle Size Distribution of Nanomaterials in Suspension by Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis (NTA), ASTM International, West Conshohocken, PA, 2012,

    [6] Updating the MISEV minimal requirements for extracellular vesicle studies: building bridges to reproducibility

    [7] Minimal information for studies of extracellular vesicles 2018 (MISEV2018): a position statement of the International Society for Extracellular Vesicles and update of the MISEV2014 guidelines

    [8] Giebel B, Helmbrecht C. Methods to Analyze EVs. Methods Mol Biol. 2017;1545:1-20. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-6728-5_1. PMID: 27943203.

    [9] Zsigmondy, R., Colloids and the Ultra Microscope, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 1909, 31 (8), pp 951–952. doi: 10.1021/ja01938a017

    [10] Bohren CF, Huffman DR. Absorption and scattering by a sphere. In: Bohren CF, Huffman DR, editors. Absorption and scattering of light by small particles. Weinheim: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH; 2007. pp. 83–129.

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    Discover Applications

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    Research on Exacellular Vesicles is thriving. Nanoparticle Tracking Analysis plays an important role in this development due to in vitro measurement of multiple physical parameters such as size, concentration, surface charge, and phenotype characteristics



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