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.

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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.

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