Cornell University researchers already have been able to detect the mass of a single cell using submicroscopic devices. Now theyre zeroing in on viruses. And the scale of their work is becoming so indescribably small that they have moved beyond the prefixes "nano" "pico" and "femto" to "atto." And just in sight is "zepto."
A gold dot, about 50 nanometers in diameter, fused to the end of a cantilevered oscillator about 4 micrometers long. A one-molecule-thick layer of a sulfur-containing chemical deposited on the gold adds a mass of about 6 attograms, which is more than enough to measure. Craighead Group/Cornell Univeristy
Scanning electron microscope photo of a single cell bound to the antibody layer on top of the oscillator. The cell is 1.43 micrometers long and 730 nanometers wide. Its mass was calculated at 665 femtograms.Craighead Group/Cornell University.
Members of the Cornell research group headed by engineering professor Harold Craighead report they have used tiny oscillating cantilevers to detect masses as small as 6 attograms by noting the change an added mass produces in the frequency of vibration.
Their submicroscopic devices, whose size is measured in nanometers (the width of three silicon atoms), are called nanoelectromechanical systems, or NEMS. But the masses they measure are now down to attograms. The mass of a small virus, for example, is about 10 attograms. An attogram is one-thousandth of a femtogram, which is one-thousandth of a picogram, which is one-thousandth of a nanogram, which is a billionth of a gram.
Bill Steele | Cornell University
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