Skip to Content

From The Lab: Nanotechnology

From the world of nanotechnology, here are the latest publications, experiments, and breakthroughs, and what they mean.

Nanomovies
An atomically sharp device records motion

Context: To build useful small devices, engineers must be able to see what they are doing, so they use atomic force microscopes to take pictures with nanometer resolution. To create images, the microscopes move a sharp tip across the surfaces of such tiny objects as silicon transistors or DNA molecules. The tip, just a few atoms across, moves slowly: at best, commercial atomic force microscopes can take only about one image every ten seconds. So they’re not much use in studying fast processes. Now, researchers at MIT have found a way to capture nanoscale images a million times faster.

Methods and Results: The technique developed by Mekhail Anwar and Itay Rousso yields high-speed movies of processes that repeat regularly. An object to be imaged is set in motion, and the tip captures information about surface height at one location only. Once enough data is collected, the tip moves a few nanometers to its next location, and the process is repeated. Each location thus becomes a pixel in a motion picture, and aligning the pixels in time produces a time-lapse movie of the process.
Unconstrained by the rate at which it can move forward, the tip collects data as quickly as its up-and-down movements can be recorded. Anwar and Rousso demonstrated the potential of their technique by imaging the motion of a microdevice with a time resolution of five microseconds.

Why it Matters: Because they scan slowly, atomic force microscopes are now used only to take snapshots of surfaces. Atomic force movies could help researchers analyze the motions of the microfluidic pumps used in the purification and analysis of DNA and proteins or provide moving images of biological processes.
Since any atomic force microscope could, in theory, be programmed to produce such movies, academic and industrial researchers have the means, motive, and opportunity to try the technique. Thus, nano moviemaking could become an important way to help researchers see what molecular devices are doing, analyze their performance, and determine how to improve them.

Source: Anwar, M., and I. Rousso. 2005. Atomic force microscopy with time resolution of microseconds. Applied Physics Letters 86:014101.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks

One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.

Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?

Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.

How to befriend a crow

I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.

Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not

Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.