A group of scientists at the Catalan Institute of Nanotechnology in Barcelona, Spain have succeeded in creating a scale so sensitive that it can measure accurately to the smallest unit of mass - the yoctogram. A yoctogram is one-septillionth of a gram, and a proton weighs about 1.7 yoctograms, meaning the scale is sensitive enough to measure a single proton.
The scale doesn't work the same way a larger scale might. The abstract for the team's paper, published yesterday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, states that the scale uses the carbon nanotubes as a nanomechanical resonator that can detect absorption events of naphthalene molecules and measure the binding energy of a xenon atom on the nanotube surface. They state these sensitive scales could have applications in mass spectrometry, magnetometry, and surface science.
NewScientist is reporting that Adrian Bachtold, one of the authors of the paper, said the team used short nanotubes. Short nanotubes give the best resolution and work at the low temperatures best for measuring frequency. They performed their measurements in a vacuum, and the nanotubes were heated shortly before measuring to disrupt any bonds to atoms.
Though I can't even imagine how small a yoctogram is, I'm sure something that can measure such small things will be useful, especially for biological applications, in the near future. So, How useful do you find such a sensitive scale? Ever added up how many yoctograms you weigh? Let me know in the comments section below.