Optically transparent vertical silicon nanowire arrays for live-cell imaging

Programmable nano-bio interfaces driven by tuneable vertically configured nanostructures have recently emerged as a powerful tool for cellular manipulations and interrogations. Such interfaces have strong potential for ground-breaking advances, particularly in cellular nanobiotechnology and mechanobiology. However, the opaque nature of many nanostructured surfaces makes non-destructive, live-cell characterization of cellular behavior on vertically aligned nanostructures challenging to observe. Here, a new nanofabrication route is proposed that enables harvesting of vertically aligned silicon (Si) nanowires and their subsequent transfer onto an optically transparent substrate, with high efficiency and without artefacts. We demonstrate the potential of this route for efficient live-cell phase contrast imaging and subsequent characterization of cells growing on vertically aligned Si nanowires. This approach provides the first opportunity to understand dynamic cellular responses to a cell-nanowire interface, and thus has the potential to inform the design of future nanoscale cellular manipulation technologies.