Washington, August 7 : Using a single layer of carbon, just one atom thick, New York-based researchers have created the world's thinnest balloon.
Cornel University researchers, who are behind this work, say that the fabric they used for making the balloon is leak-proof to even the tiniest airborne molecules. hey say that this balloon may find use in "aquariums" smaller than a red blood cell, through which scientists could peer at molecules.
"You could have instruments on one side of the membrane, in vacuum or air, and on the other side you would have DNA or proteins suspended in liquid," Live Science quoted Paul McEuen, a physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, as saying.
"And then you could get right up close to image the molecules, within a few angstroms (widths of an atom)," he added.
The researchers have revealed that the balloon is made of graphite, as found in pencils, which is made of atom-thin sheets of carbon stacked on top of each other known.
According to them, the sheets known as graphene are highly electrically conductive, due to which scientists are researching whether they can be used in advanced circuitry and other devices.
"We were studying little graphene trampolines, and by complete accident, we made a graphene sheet over a hole. Then we started studying it, and saw that it was trapping gas inside," Live Science quoted researcher Paul McEuen, a physicist at Cornell University in Ithaca, as saying.
While experimenting with bubbles made of graphene, he and his colleagues found that the membranes were impermeable to even the smallest gas molecules, including helium.
"It's amazing that something only an atom thick can be an impenetrable barrier. You can have gas on one side and vacuum or liquid on the other, and with a wall only one atom thick, nothing would go through it," McEuen said.
The researchers reckon that their balloon may also be used in hyper-fine sensors and ultra-pure filters.
"Once you have a membrane that won't let anything past, the most interesting thing is to then poke a hole in it. Then you can detect what leaks through that hole with high sensitivity, or make sure only what you want leaks through that hole," McEuen said.
He said that the only way gas leaked out from inside the balloons was through the glass that the bubbles were anchored on.
"We need to build a better base that's more impenetrable, such as single crystal silicon. I'm confident we can make a leakproof version," he said.
A research article on the new finding appears in the August 13 issue of the journal Nano Letters.