A technique that allows researchers to build microscopic structures on tiny biological materials could eventually be used to create devices inside a living cell.

Using a technique called multiphoton-absorption photopolymerization, or simply MAP, John Fourkas at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts and colleagues have built structures 1,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.

“We built the structure on top of the hair with a material that is akin to plexiglass,” says Fourkas. “One of the really exciting and unexpected things about this is that we found that we could make this structure on the hair without harming it in any way.”

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