Cell Sounds – Listening

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Prof. Jim Gimzewski was recently featured on the radio program Pulse of the Planet (presented by the National Science Foundation), where he described the use of atomic force microscopes to listen to the sounds made by a single cell.

About the show: Each weekday, Pulse of the Planet provides its listeners with a two-minute sound portrait of Planet Earth, tracking the rhythms of nature, culture and science worldwide and blending interviews and extraordinary natural sound. Pulse of the Planet is broadcast over 252 public and commercial stations around the world and on the Armed Forces Radio Network, reaching over one million listeners weekly. The series is presented by the National Science Foundation.

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You can listen to the interview clip by visiting Pulse of the Planet or read the transcript below (Courtesy of Pulse of the Planet):

Airdate: Jul 28, 2014
Scientist: Jim Gimzewski
Program:Cell Sounds – Listening
What is the sound of one cell singing?

Transcript: JM: What’s the smallest sound you can imagine? How about the sound of single cell? Oddly enough, it’s anything but subtle. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Inside a living cell there’s movement. And with the help of a sensitive instrument, it turns out it’s possible to listen to the sound of a cell. Dr. Jim Gimzewski is a professor of [chemistry & biochemistry] at UCLA. JG: “The device we use to detect the sound of the cells and the motion of the cells is called an atomic force microscope, but it’s not a microscope. It’s actually a sharp tip that we put on top of the cell and we pick up the motion a bit like you would pick up the motion in a gramophone, in the stylus of a gramophone would transduce motion into some signal that we can then amplify. We have an acoustically deadened room, like a sound studio. And then we just follow, follow the motion electronically. Record that. And then amplify it. We hear the sounds of a cell just in the way a rock band, you know, makes sounds for the audience. So, if you take an electric guitar and you pluck the string, you don’t hear much. You put that through an amplifier, loud speakers and you can, you know, blast the audience away. So, essentially we are doing the identical thing, we just have an amplifier and a speaker. Instead of the guitar we have this device we call the atomic force microscope.” JM: Once he’d figured out how to “listen” to the cell, Gimzewski moved on to doing experiments to see if he could make the cell song change. We’ll hear more in future programs. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.