Boffins at Oxford University think that they have figured out a way to give individual atoms a name, a new twist on the biblical story that Adam named everything he saw individually.
They have created, they say, an amplifier molecule on the tip of a diamond that builds on flaws in the nanocrystal, so creating a so-called “compass” that can tell the difference between carbon and hydrogen atoms.
The “compass” can be read if a pulse of laser light is shone on the tip, exciting electrons and letting you figure out if you have discovered a virus or a new material.
That’s according to Dr Simon Benjamin, who not only works for Oxford University’s Department of Material as well as for the National University of Singapore. He explained it in laymen’s term – make sense of this, if you can.
“It’s a bit like trying to grasp one particular marble out of a bucket of marbles whilst wearing an oven glove.”
This is high flying language which the author of Finnegan’s Wake would be proud of, were he still on the planet.
His colleague, Dr Erik Gauger who also works for Singapore as well as Oxford Uni, put it in rather more sober terms.
“The device that we propose may well represent the limit of what is possible in terms of magnetic field sensitivity and resolution; if, as we hope, it allows direct identification of atoms by their core signatures, then it will be a revolutionary tool in chemistry, biology and medicine.”