Modern nanotechnology instruments can routinely produce nanostructures with dimensions in the range of the key length scales, such as the electron wavelength. These nanostructures display a range of unique properties that are relevant to fundamental studies as well as potential applications.
Graphene: Casimir researchers use nanostructures to study a revolutionary new material: graphene. In order to use this material for electronic device applications, researchers in Delft for example try to optimize charge carrier mobility in graphene. In parallel, graphene quantum dots are studied as part of the effort on quantum computation. A single electron spin trapped in a graphene quantum dot is expected to have a long lifetime because of small spin-orbit scattering and the small number of nuclear spins.
Organic molecules are important components of future functional nanostructures. Some of the most important techniques used in studies of single organic molecules have originated from Casimir research groups, notably the mechanically controllable break junction technique. Current research focuses for example on interference effects of multiple current paths in the molecules, which may be relevant for efficient thermo-electric energy conversion, or current-induced non-conservative forces, which could allow electrically driven motion at the nanoscale.
Scanning-probe microscopy: Casimir researchers in Leiden are pioneering magnetic resonance force microscopy, a new type of scanning probe that measures local magnetic forces in combination with magnetic resonance. Its sensitivity has now been refined to the point that the magnetic force due to a single electron spin can be detected. Advances in this area will have impact on medical imaging techniques as well as fundamental biophysical studies of complex molecules such as proteins.