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A nanomechanical mass sensor with yoctogram resolution


Nanomechanical resonators have been used to weigh cells, biomolecules and gas molecules1,2,3,4, and to study basic phenomena in surface science, such as phase transitions5 and diffusion6,7. These experiments all rely on the ability of nanomechanical mass sensors to resolve small masses. Here, we report mass sensing experiments with a resolution of 1.7 yg (1 yg = 10−24 g), which corresponds to the mass of one proton. The resonator is a carbon nanotube of length 150 nm that vibrates at a frequency of almost 2 GHz. This unprecedented level of sensitivity allows us to detect adsorption events of naphthalene molecules (C10H8), and to measure the binding energy of a xenon atom on the nanotube surface. These ultrasensitive nanotube resonators could have applications in mass spectrometry, magnetometry and surface science.

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Figure 1: Device and characterization.
Figure 2: Measuring mass resolution.
Figure 3: Adsorption of xenon atoms and naphthalene molecules.
Figure 4: Binding energy between a xenon atom and a nanotube.


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The authors acknowledge support from the European Union through the RODIN-FP7 project, the ERC carbonNEMS project and a Marie Curie grant (no. 271938), the Spanish ministry of science (FIS2009-11284, TEC2009-06986, FIS2009-12721-C04-03, CSD2007-00041) and the Catalan government (AGAUR, SGR). The authors also thank B. Thibeault (UC Santa Barbara) for help with the fabrication.

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J.C. fabricated the devices, developed the measurement set-up and performed the measurements. A.E., J.M. and G.C. provided support regarding fabrication, measurement analysis and development of the set-up, respectively. R.R. carried out the calculations of the binding energy. A.B. supervised the work. All authors contributed to discussing the results and writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to A. Bachtold.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Chaste, J., Eichler, A., Moser, J. et al. A nanomechanical mass sensor with yoctogram resolution. Nature Nanotech 7, 301–304 (2012).

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