For generations, the weight of one molecule has been a big mystery to scientists. But now, the unknown can finally be known as a team of Caltech scientists announce they have invented a scale that can accurately measure the mass of an individual molecule. This opens up possibilities of in-depth biology, cancer research, and commercial applications.
To put things into perspective, an individual molecule is a single group of bonded atoms. For example, two hydrogen atoms and an oxygen atom make one molecule of water. One mole of water roughly weighs 0.64 ounces, which is made up of 602,214,078,000,000,000,000,000 molecules. So taking one of those molecules would be almost impossible to measure. Before, scientists had to ionize a large group of molecules to see how they interact with an electromagnetic field to calculate the mass of a single molecule.
Michael Roukes, the principle investigator of the research, states “Nobody’s ever done this before,” he continued, “The critical advance that we’ve made in this current work is that it now allows us to weigh molecules—one by one—as they come in.” The device used to measure a molecule’s mass is virtually invisible to the naked eye. It works by using the vibrating frequency to notice changes on the scale when it is sprayed with molecules.
Scientists want to use this nanotechnology to aid them while researching biological molecules to figure out the inner machinery of a cell. By exactly measuring an individual molecule and its protein, scientist can better understand the enzymes of molecular attachments and the cellular processes of different types of cells.