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Robbie Elbertse is a researcher at Delft University who co-published an article with David Coffey on the creation of a sensor that is only 11 atoms in size, and he dives into all the details on today’s show.

By tuning in, you’ll discover:

  • How to understand and visualize a magnetic wave (one portion of an electromagnetic wave)
  • What properties contribute to an atom’s “spin” or magnetic moment
  • In what way quantum mechanics is relied upon in order for wave propagation to occur

You may be familiar with “stadium waves” or “doing the wave” at sporting events. It’s accomplished when successive groups of spectators raise and almost immediately lower their arms, creating the perception of a wave rolling across the entire audience.

Now, imagine what this would look like if instead of individual people contributing to the wave, individual atoms contributed to the wave. This is one way to imagine what’s called a magnetic wave, and it was David Coffey’s desire to measure this atomic-level wave that inspired him to create a sensor composed of just 11 atoms.

Elbertse explains the science behind this sensor, describes why uncoupled electrons orbiting an atom’s nucleus cause an atom to have “spin” or magnetic moments, and illustrates how the orientation of certain atoms in a chain can lead to a magnetic wave. Coffey wanted to figure out how far these waves would travel.

For example, could a magnetic wave reach the end of a 100-atom chain? In an effort to answer this, Coffey’s sensor was created and put to the test. In addition to discussing the results, Elbertse provides an in-depth explanation of the physics behind the sensor, how they conduct their experiments, the benefits and new opportunities provided by the use of this sensor, and much more.

Watch the YouTube video at and visit to learn more.

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