Problem solved, by the Natelson Group in Rice’s old Space Science building.
The trick was to fabricate gold electrodes with a one-molecule gap. This was done by grad student Dan Ward (right). Run current across the electrodes and single molecules are detected. Moreover, the same system gives you optical measurements. And the device can be made dirt cheap.
"We can mass-produce these in known locations, and they have single-molecule sensitivity at room temperature in open air"
said Prof. Natelson, who is listed as co-author of the study, along with Ward. Natelson is a physics professor.
You can see how a whole bunch of disciplines had to get together to
make this happen, which may be the most exciting aspect to Rice
research. There aren’t many people, so they have to work together. Here
you’ve got EEs and computer jocks and chemistry and physics, all mixed
together. Given that we’re looking at creating multiple measurements on
individual molecules — that we’re talking about measuring infinitely
small matter with light and electricity — all this makes sense.
Note, kids, that the breakthrough came from a graduate student. It’s
not just a job, it’s an indenture! But some times you just got to give
it up to the kids, y’know?
And now that we’ve got the tools, who knows what we can measure?