Small World

Nanotechnology has been a big buzzword for a few years now, and is viewed by some as an evil genie, which should be stuffed back in the bottle, and by others as a good genie which ensures research funding at a level they could only dream of previously. In reality nature has been dabbling with it long before we had a catchy name that we liked. One of its minor attractions is its ‘emperor’s new clothes’ character of being able to observe an effect without actually seeing what’s causing it. Of course there are expensive units like electron microscopes, with which we can peer at desiccated samples, but nothing as simple and cheap as an optical microscope that we can look down and see things wriggling and dancing about.

Well, we have moved one large step forward this week with the publication by Dr. Wang from U of Manchester and an international team (1) who have given their specimens a liberal sprinkling of little glass beads, which act as super lenses giving them an extra eightfold magnification. So ‘Hey Presto’ and a sprinkling of this magic dust, your humble lab microscope is turned into a state of the art nanoscope, opening up a new world of excitement of watching small things misbehave in real time rather than studying their dried out remains. We shall become nano-behavioral anthropologists rather than nano-archeologists – a very exciting prospect.

Geek notes:
The magic dust is silica microspheres about 5 microns in diameter.
A micron is a millionth of a meter, a nanometer is a billionth of a meter.
The transparent microspheres focus the evanescent light waves that occur at their interface, and the normal lens system can pick up the image with a resolution of about fifty nanometers.
Evanescent wave is a wave component that rapidly looses brightness as it travels.


One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    That is brilliant! Such a simple and elegant way to view the nano in real time!

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