- Development of new imaging tools for cancer cells in vitro and in vitro is important for advancing cancer research, elucidating drug effects upon cancer cells, and studying cellular processes. We showed that fluorescent carbon dots (C-dots) synthesized from folic acid can serve as an effective vehicle for imaging cancer cells expressing the folate receptor on their surface. The C-dots, synthesized through a simple one-step process from folic acid as the carbon source, exhibited selectivity towards cancer cells displaying the folate receptor, making such cells easily distinguishable in fluorescence microscopy imaging. Biophysical measurements and competition experiments both confirmed the specific targeting and enhanced uptake of C-dots by the folate receptor-expressing cells. The folic acid-derived C-dots were not cytotoxic, and their use in bioimaging applications could aid biological studies of cancer cells, identification of agonists/antagonists, and cancer diagnostics.