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Spotlight On: Nanosight

Each month we post a new edition to the SES ‘Spotlight On…’ series, showcasing equipment at our institutions, providing information and case studies for interested researchers/industries, and promoting better use of already available equipment.

Nanosight is based on a technology called ‘nanoparticle tracking analysis’ (NTA) where a camera tracks the Brownian motion of each individual nanoparticle of interest in a flow cell. By using the Stokes-Einstein equation and based on the recorded nanoparticle tracks, the software then calculates the hydrodynamic diameter of each detected nanoparticle. These data, in turn, are used to plot the particle population distribution histogram which can be used to characterize particle populations in the sample, and to study particle aggregation and stability, to name a few applications.

For making nanoparticles visible for the system, the sample is illuminated by a laser so that each particle will emit side-scattered light towards the camera.  

Intensity of the side-scattered light depends on the particle size and its refractive index, which means that the Nanosight system is suitable for the characterization of a wide range of nanoparticles, nano-complexes and aggregates.

What is it used for?

Nanosight can be used for analysing the concentration and hydrodynamic diameter distribution of any samples containing nanoparticles in a size range of 50-2000 nm. These measurements are important for the fields of nano-medicine, cell biology, biomedical engineering and other related fields. The device does not require any special skills besides introduction to software and some background briefing. Using this machine is not a full service and usually we provide access to the equipment on the basis of collaborations.

Technical Details

  • NanoSight is a unique method of visualising and analysing particles in liquid that relates the rate of brownian motion to particle size.
  • It offers a simple and direct qualitative view.
  • It offers quantitative estimation of particle size and size distribution.
  • Limitations: analysis of 10nm particles is only possible for particles with a high refractive index such as gold and silver; the upper size limit is restricted by the limited Brownian motion – at particle sizes ~1µ particles move very slowly, significantly reducing the accuracy of the technique.

Current Research:

We are using the Nanosight device to visualise and measure the concentration and hydrodynamic size of extracellular vesicles, the nature’s nano-carriers that control cell-to-cell communication via nucleic acid and protein transfer between cells and tissues.

Where is it located?

Department of Materials, University of Oxford
Hirsch Building, Begbroke Science Park

Who has access?

Researchers who are interested in collaborating with The University of Oxford can contact Imre Mäger. Although part of the Oxford Materials Characterisation Services (OMCS), NanoSight is open to other researchers based on capacity availability.

Are there any costs/associated fees?

Currently, users at the University of Oxford are not being charged. Previously, when servicing or replacements were required, costs have been split with the heaviest users from other labs.

Can it be bought as a service with access to a team of experts

This is possible, however since the OMCS is not lab per se, work on a collaborative basis is preferred (no capacity for high throughput work). Of course, help of

Do you have to visit onsite?


Do you give preference to a particular type of researcher? E.g. Based on institution, field of research. 

All current users are from the Medical Sciences Division, mostly DPAG, and working largely in the field of extracellular vesicles, however there is no system for selecting preferable research background – has never been required.

Application Process

Email contact below to discuss workload and fitting into the current internal bookings schedule.

Potential relevant disciplines: 

Nanomedicine, biomedical engineering, drug delivery, cell biology



Imre Mäger