Bitty Beacon: Wee disks probe materials at microscales

10:46am, September 4, 2002

Researchers charting the microscopic properties of materials now have tiny lighthouses to guide them. Illuminated by lasers, disks no larger than red blood cells can project rotating beams bright enough to create a light show in a darkened room, a team of university and industrial physicists has found.

Those shimmering disks may enable researchers to measure the elasticity and other characteristics of soft materials, including those inside living cells, says team member Paul M. Chaikin of Princeton University. The disks may also serve as components of micromachines such as pumps and optical switches.

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