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Nanoscale Weaving

In this Maker Kit you can use materials to create your own plaited keyring with a repeating pattern. In living systems, such as human tissue and muscle, there are repeating patterns at the nanoscale. A nanoscale plait is 1 million times smaller than the plait you have made!

How do we see nanoscale patterns? The Atomic Force Microscope uses a cantilever to feel the surface at the nanoscale. It allows us to ‘see’ nanoscale objects through feeling, a bit like reading braille.

The Atomic Force Microscope, or AFM, has a super tiny tip that can move over the surface of really small things, like proteins. It's like using your finger to feel the bumps and grooves on a Lego brick. The tip is attached to a tiny, bendy lever called a cantilever. Here's how it works: As the tip moves over the surface, the cantilever bends up and down. There's a laser beam that shines onto the back of the cantilever. When the cantilever bends, the laser beam gets reflected in different directions. A detector catches the reflected laser light and sends this information to a computer. The computer then creates a detailed picture of the surface based on how the cantilever bent as it moved. It's kind of like drawing a picture of what it's touching by feeling the shapes and patterns with the tip. This helps scientists see really small details that are too tiny to see with regular microscopes.

Check out our gallery of nanoscale plaits. The images have been taken using an Atomic Force Microscope.

The gallery of nanoscale plaits shows AFM images of amylin proteins which normally, help us control how much sugar is in our blood. But sometimes, in people with diabetes, these tiny proteins start to stick together in a way that isn't helpful. They form long, twisty shapes called fibrils. By using the AFM and other microscopes, it’s possible to see the details of how the proteins are arranged. This helps understand how the fibrils form and helps us figure out ways to stop them from making fibrils, which might help people with diabetes stay healthy.


The amylin research was funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council. We acknowledge funding from the EPSRC, Royal Academy of Engineering and the University of Leeds Research Culture Fund.

Would you like to try our Nanoscale Wordsearch? You can download it here:

Download PDF • 239KB

Check our out gallery of plaited keyrings! If you would like to share yours, please upload a photo here: Be Curious: Make (

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