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How do you visualise the extremely small forces connected to processes such as embryonic growth and development? Researchers at Wageningen have experimented with a combination of laser technology and chemistry, coming up with a sensor consisting of one single molecule that is a few hundred times more accurate than existing devices used to measure nano-forces on the molecular level. The researchers describe their findings in the 18 January issue of the scientific journal Chem.
The forces experienced by molecules in cells, but also in all the materials around us, are so small that even the most accurate existing measuring devices are barely able to detect whether it is a force at all. "Until now, everything was black or white, either there was a force or there wasn't—existing methods couldn't determine anything in between," says Joris Sprakel, research group leader at Sprakel Lab and the Physical Chemistry and Soft Matter Group of Wageningen University & Research. "With a team of three young researchers and an advanced student we've brought together various areas of expertise. And we came up with the idea that it had to be theoretically possible to detect the forces at molecular level by using the molecule itself as a nano measuring device. We no longer measure black or white, but 'fifty shades of grey' so to speak."
Terms - Force - Molecule - Resolution - Femtonewtons
Expressed in technical terms, sensing the force of one molecule has a resolution of 100 femtonewtons. As a force, this is written as 0.0000000000001 newton (1 newton feels like around 100 grams). "But a molecule is also unbelievably small, about one nanometre, or one millionth of a millimetre," says Joris Sprakel. "This force of one hundred femtonewtons that presses on a molecule of one nanometre can be compared with the force of a grain of sand on a person's shoulder. And we can...
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