A team of researchers at the University of Maryland in College Park and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has devised and demonstrated a new method to measure free energy. With the help of microscopy, in a bid to track and assess the configuration or the fluctuating motion of single molecules or various other small objects, this novel method can be applied to a wide array of microscopic as well as nanoscopic systems than the past techniques.

David Ross of NIST and the first author of a new research paper on this work published in Nature Physics stated that researchers have relied on free energy in order to understand the complexity of systems since the advent of steam engines. “This concept will remain just as fundamental as scientists design and develop proteins and various other single-molecule systems. However, the measurements are relatively tougher for small systems, so methods like the new one will be of fundamental significance,” he added further.

By measuring the changes in free energy as a system modifies or alters its internal structure, researchers can foresee certain aspects of the behavior of a living system or the operational capabilities of a machine, without the need to keep a track of all the happenings of the atoms and molecules that construct the system. A common example of free energy that we see in our everyday life is the internal combustion engine in a vehicle, with an overall energy equal to the power of its motion and the heat it produces. After deducting the heat energy, which is emitted by the system, the free energy remains.

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