The researchers found that “nanoscale devices using electromagnetism would be sensitive enough to determine the mass of viruses a hundred billion times lighter than a strand of human hair.” This finding, they say, could lead to cheaper, more accurate sensors for use in medical and environmental applications.
“Medical researchers would finally have a more accurate tool for detecting viruses and bacteria, and that could lead to better clinical diagnosis,” says Hassan Askari, a researcher and PhD candidate at Waterloo who co-authored a paper on the finding.
The new method of measurement uses a sensor consisting of a moving miniature magnet fixed to a nanoplate, and a stationary coil. Electrical voltage would be generated when the plate is vibrated – rapidly varying the distance between the magnetic particle and the coil.
The mass of an object on the plate – such as a bacteria or gas molecule – could be determined by measuring the difference in voltage before and after the object is added on the plate. In addition, the generated voltage could be used to power the sensor itself, enabling wireless transmission of results and greatly reducing interference that could impact accuracy.
“The concept is very beautiful,” says Askari. “If we can optimize the design, the hope is we can develop a self-powered mass sensor.”
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