Frontier Science

A Microscope With Ears

If a new “micro-ear” device is successful, scientists will be able to listen in on cells as closely as they peer at them through microscopes. “The optical tweezer can measure or manipulate at piconewton forces,” one researcher explained. Scientists involved have so far been able to hear Brownian motion (the sound made when atoms and molecules move in a fluid) and hope that it could eventually be used to listen to the movement of bacteria such as E. coli as well as microorganisms that cause diseases like sleeping sickness. “It’s truly exploratory in that we expect and hope we will hear something interesting but we really don’t know,” said one of the physicists developing the device.