Published on 3 January 2019

A team of French researchers involving Université Paris-Saclay (CEA, CNRS, Inserm, Université Paris-Sud) and Université Grenoble-Alpes has devised a new technique for the measurement of masses in the range of 10-20 kg. Such devices should lead to important technological progress in many fields, especially biology. Various examples are presented in the 23 November 2018 issue of Science.

At the moment, we are able to measure precisely the mass of objects that weigh several tons. In addition, many research projects in the past decades have made it possible to characterize small molecular assemblies and even isolated atoms. In the absence of a good technical solution, however, accuracy was lacking for objects of intermediary size. For example, determining the mass of certain complex nano-assemblies could only be done theoretically. A team of French researchers remedied this problem by devising nano-scales. The latter are based on the mass spectrometry principles, coupled with a network of mechanical nanoresonators.

The team was able to measure the mass of a virus – phage T5 – with this new measuring system. The composition and theoretical mass of this bacteriaphage were already known, but there was no measurement instrument that could determine its precise mass.

These results will have direct applications in the characterization, quality control and production of nanostructures, be they organic, such as the viruses presented in the article below, or based on inorganic materials.

Reference: “Neutral Mass Spectrometry of Virus Capsids Above 100 Megadaltons with Nanomechanical Resonators”, Sergio Dominguez-Medina et. al., Science, November 2018.

Picture caption: The silicon nanoresonator connected with metal plates measures tiny objects like viruses.