The world’s smallest reaction chamber has a mixing volume that can be measured in femtoliters – that’s a million billionths of a liter.

The reaction chamber actually consists of nothing more than a tiny spray of liquid, produced by a technique known as electrospray ionization, in which a liquid is converted into lots of charged droplets by exposing it to a high voltage as it exits the nozzle of a thin capillary.

Like water being sprayed out of a hose, these charged droplets form a cone shape, known as a Taylor cone, as they are emitted from the nozzle. Because the electrospray process transforms any chemical entities within the liquid into ions, it is a commonly used technique for ionizing a liquid sample prior to analysis by mass spectrometry.

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