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Researchers in the Mazur group at Harvard have found a way to make nanofibres only 50nm thick; thinner than the wavelengths of light they carry.

Made from silica, the nanofibres transmit the light by acting as a guide for it to flow around, rather than through; and because they can be made smooth and of uniform diameter, the light remains coherent as it travels.

This property allows the fibres to transmit more information using less space, which means the material will be useful in building sensors, medical products nanoscale lasers and communications tools.

The fact that light can now be sent down such a small path will make a real impact on sensor design, according to the research team, as the size of each detecting point is a limiting factor in how sensitive a device can be. As these fibres are so tiny, more can be bundled together. This would mean faster and more accurate detection and identification of substances.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) requested increased funding for research like this. Far from raising concerns about grey goo, it argues that discoveries in the field of nano-biotech and nan-technology will: “enable development of revolutionary technologies that contribute to improvements in health, advance agriculture, conserve materials and energy and sustain the environment”.

The team, led by Eric Mazur and Limin Tong first reported their findings in Nature. ®

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