In fluorescence microscopy, the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the optical system is directly linked to the numerical aperture (NA) of the microscope objective, which creates detection challenges for low-NA, wide-field and high-throughput imaging systems. Here we demonstrate a method to increase the light collection efficiency from micron-scale fluorescent objects using self-assembled vapor-condensed polyethylene glycol droplets, which act as micro-reflectors for fluorescent light. Around each fluorescent particle, a liquid meniscus is formed that increases the excitation efficiency and redirects part of the laterally-emitted fluorescent light towards the detector due to internal reflections at the liquid-air interface of the meniscus. The three-dimensional shape of this micro-reflector can be tuned as a function of time, vapor temperature, and substrate contact angle, providing us optimized SNR performance for fluorescent detection. Based on these self-assembled micro-reflectors, we experimentally demonstrate ∼2.5-3 fold enhancement of the fluorescent signal from 2-10μm sized particles. A theoretical explanation of the formation rate and shapes of these micro-reflectors is presented, along with a ray tracing model of their optical performance. This method can be used as a sample preparation technique for consumer electronics-based microscopy and sensing tools, thus increasing the sensitivity of low-NA systems that image fluorescent micro-objects.
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