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LOOK: World's Tiniest Magnifying Glass Lets You See Chemical Bonds Between Atoms

Nov 12, 2016 12:30 PM EST
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A team of scientists from the University of Cambridge has developed the world's smallest magnifying glass that can focus on light a billion more times, letting you see even single atoms.

According to the study published in the journal Science, the new invention breaks than the previous assumption that it is impossible for light to be focused down smaller than its wavelength.

The team of scientists, together with an international team from Spain, created the world's smallest magnifying glass using conductive gold nanoparticles. The result is an extremely tiny optical cavity, called "pico-cavity," that could only fit a single molecule. The said "pico-cavity" is capable of confining light to less than a billionth of a meter and is only the size of a single atom in a bump of a gold nanostructure.

The feat was extremely hard, according to the scientists. The team had to cool samples to -260°C to control the "scurrying" gold atoms. The researchers then used laser light on the cooled samples to create the pico-cavities.

"Our models suggested that individual atoms sticking out might act as tiny lightning rods, but focusing light instead of electricity," said Professory Javier Aizpurua, lead researcher of the study's theoretical section, via Science Daily.

Meanwhile, Professor Jeremy Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research, explained, "Even single gold atoms behave just like tiny metallic ball bearings in our experiments, with conducting electrons roaming around, which is very different from their quantum life where electrons are bound to their nucleus."

The new discovery could lead to new ways in studying the interaction between light and matter. It could also open up the possibility of building complex molecules from smaller components as well as reading data from light and storing them in molecular vibrations via optomechanical data storage devices.

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