Tuan Vo-Dinh


R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Tuan Vo-Dinh is R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Professor of Chemistry, and Director of The Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics.

Dr. Vo-Dinh’s research activities and interests involve biophotonics, nanophotonics, plasmonics, laser-excited luminescence spectroscopy, room temperature phosphorimetry, synchronous luminescence spectroscopy, and surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy for multi-modality bioimaging, and theranostics (diagnostics and therapy) of diseases such as cancer and infectious diseases.

We have pioneered the development of a new generation of gene biosensing probes using surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) detection with “Molecular Sentinels” and Plasmonic Coupling Interference (PCI) molecular probes for multiplex and label-free detection of nucleic acid biomarkers (DNA, mRNA, microRNA) in early detection of a wide variety of diseases.

In genomic and precision medicine, nucleic acid-based molecular diagnosis is of paramount importance with many advantages such as high specificity, high sensitivity, serotyping capability, and mutation detection. Using SERS-based plasmonic nanobiosensors and nanochips, we are developing novel nucleic acid detection methods that can be integrated into lab-on-a-chip systems for point-of-care diagnosis  (e.g., breast, GI cancer) and global health applications (e.g., detection of malaria and dengue).

In bioimaging, we are developing a novel multifunctional gold nanostar (GNS) probe for use in multi-modality bioimaging in pre-operative scans with PET, MRI and CT, intraoperative margin delineation with optical imaging, SERS and two-photon luminescence (TPL). The GNS can be used also for cancer treatment with plasmonics enhanced photothermal therapy (PTT), thus providing an excellent platform for seamless diagnostics and therapy (i.e., theranostics). Preclinical studies have shown its great potential for cancer diagnostics and therapeutics for future clinical translation.

For fundamental studies, various nanobiosensors are being developed for monitoring intracellular parameters (e.g., pH) and biomolecular processes (e.g., apoptosis, caspases), opening the possibility for fundamental molecular biological research as well as biomedical applications (e.g., drug discovery) at the single cell level in a systems biology approach. For point of care diagnostics, nanoprobes and nanochips with highly multiplex SERS detection and imaging use artificial intelligence and machine learning for data analysis.

Our research activities in immunotherapy involve unique plasmonics-active gold “nanostars.” These star-shaped nanobodies made of gold work like “lightning rods,” concentrating the electromagnetic energy at their tips and allowing them to capture photon energy more efficiently when irradiated by laser light. Teaming with medical collaborators, we have developed a novel cancer treatment modality, called synergistic immuno photothermal nanotherapy (SYMPHONY), which combines immune-checkpoint inhibition and gold nanostar–mediated photothermal immunotherapy that can unleash the immunotherapeutic efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors. This combination treatment can eradicate the primary tumors as well as distant “untreated” tumors, and induce immunologic memory like a “anti-cancer vaccine” effect in murine model.

Appointments and Affiliations

  • R. Eugene and Susie E. Goodson Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Professor of Biomedical Engineering
  • Professor in the Department of Chemistry
  • Faculty Network Member of The Energy Initiative
  • Member of the Duke Cancer Institute

Contact Information


  • Ph.D. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology-ETH Zurich (Switzerland), 1975
  • B.S. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology-EPFL Lausanne (Switzerland), 1971

Research Interests

Biophotonics, laser-excited luminescence spectroscopy, room temperature phosphorimetry, synchronous luminescence spectroscopy, surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy, field environmental instrumentation, fiberoptics sensors, nanosensors, biosensors and biochips for the protection of the environment and the improvement of human health. More at vodinh.pratt.duke.edu

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • President’s Award. SPIE. 2022
  • Sir George Stokes Award. Royal Society of Chemistry. 2019
  • Fellow (NAI). National Academy of Inventors. 2017
  • Award on Spectrochemical Analysis. American Chemical Society, Division of Analytical Chemistry. 2011
  • Fellows. American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering. 2004
  • Director’s Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Science and Technology. UT-Battelle. 2003
  • Distinguished Inventors Award. Battelle Memorial Institute. 2003
  • Distinguished Scientist of the Year Award. Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 2003
  • Fellow. International Society for Optics and Photonics. 2000
  • RD-100 Award for Most Technologically Significant Advance in R&D (Multifunctional Biochip). R&D Magazine. 1999
  • Lockheed Martin Commercialization Award. Lockheed Martin Corporation. 1998
  • BER-50 Award for Exceptional Service for a Health Citizenry. US Department of Energy. 1997
  • AMSE Award, American Museum of Science and Technology (BiOptics Technology). American Museum of Science and Technology. 1997
  • Inventor of the Year Award. Tennessee Inventors Association. 1996
  • RD-100 Award for Most Technologically Significant Advance in R&D (SERS Gene Probe). R&D Magazine. 1996
  • Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer (SERODS Technology). Federal Laboratory Consortium. 1995
  • RD-100 Award for Most Technologically Significant Product of the Year (PCB Spot Test). R&D Magazine. 1994
  • Thomas Jefferson Award. Martin Marietta Corporation. 1992
  • Scientist of the Year. Oak Ridge National Laboratory. 1992
  • RD-100 Award for Most Technologically Significant Product of the Year (SERODS Technology). R&D Magazine. 1992
  • Inventors International Hall of Fame Award. Inventors Clubs of America. 1992
  • Languedoc-Rousillon Medal. University of Perpignan (France). 1989
  • Gold Medal Spectroscopy Award. Society for Applied Spectroscopy. 1988
  • RD-100 Award for Most Significant Technological Advance in R&D (Fluoroimmunosensor). R&D Magazine. 1987
  • Award for Excellence in Technology Transfer. Federal Laboratory Consortium. 1986
  • RD 100 Award for Most Significant Technological Advance in Research & Dev (PNA Dosimeter). R&D Magazine. 1981

Courses Taught

  • EGR 393: Research Projects in Engineering
  • CHEM 630: Advances in Photonics (GE, IM)
  • CHEM 601: Biosensors
  • BME 792: Continuation of Graduate Independent Study
  • BME 791: Graduate Independent Study
  • BME 567: Biosensors (GE, IM, MC)
  • BME 555: Advances in Photonics (GE, IM)
  • BME 494: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)
  • BME 493: Projects in Biomedical Engineering (GE)

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Dukes, PV; Strobbia, P; Ngo, HT; Odion, RA; Rocke, D; Lee, WT; Vo-Dinh, T, Plasmonic assay for amplification-free cancer biomarkers detection in clinical tissue samples., Anal Chim Acta, vol 1139 (2020), pp. 111-118 [10.1016/j.aca.2020.09.003] [abs].
  • Fales, AM; Strobbia, P; Vo-Dinh, T; Ilev, IK; Pfefer, TJ, 3D-printed phantoms for characterizing SERS nanoparticle detectability in turbid media., The Analyst, vol 145 no. 18 (2020), pp. 6045-6053 [10.1039/d0an01295e] [abs].
  • Sung, AD; Yen, RC; Jiao, Y; Bernanke, A; Lewis, DA; Miller, SE; Li, Z; Ross, JR; Artica, A; Piryani, S; Zhou, D; Liu, Y; Vo-Dinh, T; Hoffman, M; Ortel, TL; Chao, NJ; Chen, BJ, Fibrinogen-Coated Albumin Nanospheres Prevent Thrombocytopenia-Related Bleeding., Radiat Res, vol 194 no. 2 (2020), pp. 162-172 [10.1667/RADE-20-00016] [abs].