The World's Smallest Magnifying Glass
European Research Council (ERC) funding helped scientists at the University of Cambridge create the world’s smallest magnifying glass.
Using tiny particles of gold, researchers have concentrated light down smaller than a single atom, letting them look at individual chemical bonds inside molecules, and opening up new ways to study light and matter.
In collaboration with European colleagues, the team used highly conductive gold nanoparticles to make the world’s tiniest optical cavity. The cavity – called a ‘pico-cavity’ by the researchers – consists of a bump in a gold nanostructure the size of a single atom, and confines light to less than a billionth of a metre.
The results open up new ways to study the interaction of light and matter, including the possibility of making the molecules in the cavity undergo new sorts of chemical reactions, which could enable the development of entirely new types of sensors.
The findings have the potential to open a whole new field of light-catalysed chemical reactions, allowing complex molecules to be built from smaller components.