Back when you were first learning about units of measurement, you probably didn’t know about the dalton, which is used to indicate mass at the atomic level. It’s also safe to guess that you didn’t know about the megadalton, equal to one million daltons, which is still a really tiny amount of mass. Scientists have now created a scale that can actually weigh these minuscule amounts of matter. It uses a vibrating resonator — a tiny beam — that converts the vibrations into an electrical signal and senses changes in resistance, allowing the user to calculate the particle’s mass.
Subscribe for counterintuitive, surprising, and impactful stories delivered to your inbox every Thursday
What’s the Big Idea?
Past methods of mass spectroscopy were only able to identify mass at the molecular level using hundreds of molecules deposited onto the beam; it was impossible to determine how much each molecule weighed. This version makes it easier for scientists to calculate masses of individual molecules, and the increased sensitivity allows for closer examination of different kinds of particles within a mixed sample.