Single molecules unveiled

Published: Thursday 30 June 1994

SCIENTISTS delving deep into molecular structure, have for the first time now a tool to study single molecules at room temperature (Nature, Vol 369, No 6475).

Earlier, scientists using spectroscopy -- a technique by which light bounced off a substance revealing its structure -- could only obtain an average picture of the billions of molecules that comprise the substance.

A technique to analyse the structure of a single molecule was recently reported, but it required extremely low temperatures -- minus 269 degrees Celsius.

But the new spectroscopic method devised by scientist J K Trautman and his colleagues at AT&T Bell Laboratories in the US works at room temperature. First, the substance to be analysed is applied as an extremely thin film on a polymer. Light is then bounced off a single molecule using a fine optical fibre probe, revealing its structure.

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