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World's Smallest Magnifying Glass Makes It Possible to See Bonds Between Atoms

Nov 12, 2016 05:51 AM EST
World's Smallest Magnifying Glass
The tiniest magnifying glass allows one to see chemical bonds between atoms.
(Photo : Ian Gavan)

Scientists have for a long time failed to focus light smaller than its wavelength. However, researchers at the University of Cambridge have built the smallest magnifying glass in the world that focuses light by a billion times to the scale of a single atom.

The team partnered with researchers from Spain and used gold nanoparticles that were highly conductive to create the smallest optical cavity in the world. Named a "pico-cavity," it's so tiny that only one molecule can fit within it. It comprises of a single atom-sized module in a gold nanostructure and limits light to less than a billionth of a meter.

Published in the journal Science, this new invention can assist scientists and researchers to examine the interaction of matter and light and open new avenues to make molecules present in the cavity go through new kinds of chemical reactions. This will eventually allow the development of new kinds of sensors.

It was heavily challenging to build nanostructures from a single atom, according to the team. The samples had to be cooled down to -260 degrees Centigrade so as to freeze the bustling gold atoms, stated Felix Benz, who authored the study.

A beam of laser light was shone on the sample by the researchers to build the tiny cavities, which allowed them to observe the movement of a single atom in real time. Professor Javier Aizpurua, leader of the theoretical section of the project, said that the models indicated that each protruding atom was acting as small lightning rods, but they focused light and not electricity.

The findings can open an entirely new field of chemical reactions catalyzed with the help of light, enabling complicated molecules to be created from relatively tinier components. There is also a likelihood of new opto-mechanical information storage devices with the help of which data can be read and written by light and stocked as molecular vibrations.

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