The new instrument can be paired with a parallel research effort at NIST to create an accurate atomic-scale force sensorfor example, a microscopic diving-board-like cantilever whose stiffness has been calibrated on NIST's Electrostatic Force Balance. Physicist Douglas Smith says the combination should make possible the direct measurement of force between two gold atoms in a way traceable to national measurement standards. And because any two gold atoms are essentially identical, that would give other researchers a direct method of calibrating their equipment. "We're after something that people that do this kind of measurement could use as a benchmark to calibrate their instruments without having to go to all the trouble we do, " Smith says. "What if the experiment you're performing calibrates itself because the measurement you're making has intrinsic values? You can make an electrical measurement that's fairly easy and by observing conductance you can tell when you've gotten to this single-atom chain. Then you can make your mechanical measurements knowing what those forces should be and recalibrate your instrument accordingly."
In addition to its application to nanoscale mechanics, say the NIST team, their system's long-term stability at the picometer scale has promise for studying the movement of electrons in one-dimensional systems and single-molecule spectroscopy.
|Contact: Michael Baum|
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)