Technology

This Is The World's Smallest Magnifying Glass

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If you've ever used a magnifying glass in bright sunlight, you're familiar with its impressive focusing power. The ability of a magnifying glass to focus sunlight into a laser-like pinpoint is exactly what makes it magnify images, just in the opposite direction: light waves travel from an object to the glass, where they're bent in a way that make the object look as big as the glass itself. The simplicity of a magnifying glass is what makes it possible to build optics as big as telescopes and as small as microscopes, but for centuries, there had been a limit: you couldn't focus light any smaller than its wavelength (that's just smaller than a millionth of a meter). Until now, that is: researchers led by the University of Cambridge have created a magnifying glass that can do just that.

Making a magnifying glass the size of a molecule is a bit tricky, so hold onto your hats; this gets complicated. The researchers sandwiched a single layer of biphenyl-4-thiol molecules between a layer of gold film and a gold nanoparticle—that is, a ridiculously small chunk of gold atoms. Using a laser, they were able to make those gold atoms move around and create a tiny, atom-sized opening they called a picocavity. This was no small feat; in order to achieve it, they had to cool the material down to -260 degrees Celsius to keep the atoms from moving. But that picocavity is where the magic happens. It focuses light down to less than a billionth of a meter, making it possible to study the interaction of light and matter in novel ways, and even create never-before-seen chemical reactions. The biggest things in science are happening at the nanoscale. Watch the videos below to hear about more teeny-tiny technological breakthroughs.

What Is Nanotechnology?

Find out why scientists are drilling down to the tiniest of scales for their research.

Share the knowledge!

The Benefits Of Gold Nanoparticles

Gold nanoparticles play a role in this tiny microscope. Find out what they are.

Nanoparticles: Measuring What You Can't See

Go into a facility that actually makes these tiny particles.

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