Friday, January 20, 2012

How to Bug a Germ

The world's smallest ear doesn't belong to any animal. Instead, it's a tiny piece of gold suspended in a laser beam. It can hear sounds a million times fainter than any human ear can, making it a powerful acoustic microscope.

The nano-ear is the work of Jochen Friedmann and Andrey Lutich of Munich's Ludwig-Maximilians University. The setup is a progression from the 1986 development of so-called "optical tweezers", which use laser beams to trap microscopic particles inside the most powerful part of the electric field. This effectively suspends the particle so that it no longer moves on its own - the only way it can move if something nearby disturbs it...

FutureWatch: The nano-ear would be hugely useful in bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms, as being able to "hear" the sounds they make could provide vital new data on what distinguishes different strains. (more)