After devoting 12 years to the project, scientists have fabricated the first-ever device to measure molecules one at a time.
California Institute of Technology (Caltech) researchers said it would eventually help doctors diagnose diseases, enable biologists to study viruses and probe molecular machinery of cells, and even allow better measurement of nanoparticles and air pollution.
The device, only a couple millionths of a metre in size, consists of a tiny, vibrating bridge-like structure.
When a particle or molecule lands on the bridge, its mass changes the oscillating frequency in a way that reveals how much the particle weighs, the journal Nature Nanotechnology reports.
The new instrument is based on a technique developed by Michael Roukes, professor of physics, applied physics and bioengineering at Caltech, and his colleagues over the last 12 years, according to a Caltech statement.