A team of scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed a method of using quartz to create pressure sensors accurate to millionths of a gram.
Designed to detect changes in mass in very small samples of matter, the sensors feature a thin wafer of quartz whose ultrasonic pitch changes when the pressure on its surface alters.
The equipment can be used to identify the purity of a microscopic sample by heating it and measuring the change in pitch - and therefore the change in mass - that occurs, as an extension of thermogravimetric analysis techniques already in use.
Analytical chemist Elisabeth Mansfield of NIST's materials science group explains that the method was devised to help identify how much of a substance is required in order to entirely coat the outer surface of a nanoparticle.
NIST has contributed in the past towards a number of scientific advancements including the development of X-ray mammography and the invention of scanning tunnelling microscopy.