Scientific Breakthroughs

World’s Smallest Magnifying Glass Lets Us See to the ‘Scale of Single Atoms’ and Their Chemical Bonds

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World's Smallest Magnifying Glass Lets Us See to the 'Scale of Single Atoms' and Their Chemical Bonds
PHOTOGRAPH: Coyot/Pixabay |

Behold the world’s smallest magnifying glass that magnifies an image up to the “scale of single atoms.” This opens new channels for studying the interaction between matter and light and exploring new chemical reactions of molecules.

A magnifying glass, also called hand lens, is a convex lens that magnifies an object’s image. It works by bouncing off light on the lens bending the parallel rays, sans magnifying glass, to converge and create the virtual image on our retinas.

Smallest Optical Cavity Created

Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Cambridge made a more revolutionary magnifying glass that smashes the known limit (a millionth of a meter) of focusing light by having the new device focus light a whopping billion times more tightly.

They used highly conductive gold nanoparticles to create the world’s smallest magnifying glass. The optical cavity, called by the researchers as pico-cavities, is so small that only a single molecule can fit in.

A laser light is used to move the atoms in the nanoparticle as the researchers were able to observe the movement of individual atoms in real time. However, creating the pico-cavities was significantly difficult since only under cryogenic temperatures can they bar the gold atoms from scurrying around.

Professor Jeremy Baumberg, the lead of the study and a researcher at the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, said single gold atoms behave similarly like “tiny metallic ball bearings” that are with conducting electrons moving out and about. This is reportedly different from their “quantum life.”

Applications in the Future

The study published in journal Science gives researchers more insight on how light interacts with matter. With that, scientists can delve into tapping on the manipulation of molecules in the cavity to go through new chemical reactions that will potentially introduce the new generation of sensors.

Moreover, there is also a possibility of the development of new optomechanical storage devices where molecular vibrations will be used to store information that can be read and written with light. All those complexities and revolutionaries will soon be expectedly touched thanks to the world’s smallest magnifying glass.


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