Why Are Gold Nanoparticles Red?

Definition, Properties and Applications

Gold nanoparticles exhibit a fascinating property where they appear red instead of the metallic yellow color of bulk gold. This intriguing phenomenon is due to the unique interaction of light with the nanoparticles, specifically through a process known as surface plasmon resonance (SPR). Here’s a deeper look into why gold nanoparticles are red:

Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR)

  • Electron Oscillations: In gold nanoparticles, the conduction electrons on the surface can oscillate collectively when they interact with light. This oscillation is called surface plasmon resonance.
  • Absorption and Scattering: These oscillations occur at specific wavelengths of light, which depend on the size, shape, and environment of the nanoparticles. For gold nanoparticles typically in the range of 1 to 100 nanometers, the SPR causes them to absorb blue and green light.
  • Red Appearance: When blue and green wavelengths are absorbed, the remaining wavelengths of light are reflected and transmitted. This results in the particles appearing red to the human eye.

Size Dependency

  • Particle Size Influence: The exact color of the gold nanoparticles can vary slightly with their size. Smaller nanoparticles (around 10-20 nm) typically appear red, while larger particles may shift towards a violet hue due to changes in their SPR.

Quantum Effects

  • Discrete Energy Levels: At the nanoscale, gold particles exhibit quantum mechanical effects where their energy levels become discrete rather than continuous, further affecting how they interact with light.

Shape and Environment

  • Shape: The shape of the nanoparticles (spherical, rod-like, etc.) also influences the SPR and thus the color. For example, gold nanorods can exhibit different colors based on their aspect ratio.
  • Environment: The surrounding medium (solvent, presence of other chemicals) can shift the SPR and change the observed color.


This red coloration and the unique optical properties of gold nanoparticles have led to their use in various applications, including:

  • Medical Diagnostics: In assays and imaging, where their color change can indicate the presence of specific biomolecules.
  • Sensing: For detecting chemical and biological substances.
  • Therapeutics: In photothermal therapy for cancer treatment.


The red color of gold nanoparticles is a fascinating consequence of the surface plasmon resonance effect, influenced by the size, shape, and environment of the nanoparticles. This property not only makes them visually striking but also highly useful in scientific and medical applications.

Would you like to dive deeper into any specific aspect of this phenomenon or its applications ...

Go here for Nanopartz Technical Notes