Cancer stem cells (CSCs) contribute to multidrug resistance, tumor recurrence and metastasis, making them prime therapeutic targets. Their ability to differentiate and lose stem cell properties makes them challenging to study. Currently, there is no simple assay that can capture and trace the dynamic phenotypic changes on the CSC surface. Here, we report rapid discrimination of breast CSCs from non-CSCs using a nanoparticle-fluorescent-protein based sensor. This nanosensor was employed to discriminate CSCs from non-CSCs, as well CSCs that had differentiated in vitro in two breast cancer models.