IBM researchers demonstrate new method for rapid molecule sorting and delivery

May 2, 2006 — IBM researchers say they’ve demonstrated a new nanoscale method that quickly separates very small numbers of molecules and delivers them precisely onto surfaces with exact control. IBM says that when fully developed, the new technique has the potential to improve such diverse applications as medical lab tests and future nanoelectronic circuit manufacturing.

The method is based on the atomic force microscope (AFM), an instrument invented by an IBM Nobel Laureate 20 years ago that performs nanoscale operations using a tiny cantilever with a cone-shaped tip at its end. When an electrical field is applied to the tip, molecules will slide up or down its surface at characteristic speeds. By modifying the tip’s surface and varying the strength and duration of the electric field, different molecular species can be separated from each other within a few milliseconds, considerably faster than today’s methods.

The IBM scientists anticipate that the method could someday be used in at least two different applications. The method may speed up a wide variety of molecular analysis and genetic applications — from DNA fingerprinting to routine blood tests. It also has potential for delivering molecules onto a surface with great precision, which may be useful in creating future molecular electronic circuits or lithography features for more conventional nanoelectronics.


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