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Scientists Take First Picture of a Single Atom

By - Source: Science Daily | B 37 comments

While the purpose of the picture was to show how many atoms it would take to produce a shadow, the team was also able to hold the atom long enough in one place to take the picture and capture its shadow using a specific frequency of light as well as a super high-resolution microscope.

Dave Kielpinski, who led the research project at Griffith University's Centre for Quantum Dynamics in Brisbane, Australia, said that they trapped a ytterbium atom in a chamber and held it with electrical forces. Then they exposed it to light and aimed its shadow onto a detector. Key to the picture was the light frequency.

"If we change the frequency of the light we shine on the atom by just one part in a billion, the image can no longer be seen," Kielpinski said. "Because we are able to predict how dark a single atom should be, as in how much light it should absorb in forming a shadow, we can measure if the microscope is achieving the maximum contrast allowed by physics."

As a result of the research, scientists say it is now possible to predict "how much light is needed to observe processes within cells, under optimum microscopy conditions, without crossing the threshold and destroying them." Microbiologists in particular may benefit from the findings as they will be able to take a much closer look at tiny structures, such as DNA strands, without exposing them to light that could harm them.

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  • 25 Hide
    s3anister , July 5, 2012 8:17 AM
    Wow. I am seriously impressed by this. Good job, Griffith University.
  • 17 Hide
    back_by_demand , July 5, 2012 8:53 AM
    Scientist takes picture of atom, scientist uploads to Facebook as the atom has 20 new friends pending
  • 15 Hide
    stingstang , July 5, 2012 9:40 AM
    "Because we are able to predict how dark a single atom should be, as in how much light it should absorb in forming a shadow, we can measure if the microscope is achieving the maximum contrast allowed by physics."
    Holy nerdgasm!
Other Comments
  • 25 Hide
    s3anister , July 5, 2012 8:17 AM
    Wow. I am seriously impressed by this. Good job, Griffith University.
  • -9 Hide
    Anonymous , July 5, 2012 8:19 AM
    Yeah so single atoms have been seen before...

    http://www.nature.com/nphys/journal/v6/n12/abs/nphys1778.html
  • 4 Hide
    belardo , July 5, 2012 8:23 AM
    I liked the video that they made of LIGHT moving. (not these guys specifically)
    It was quite cool looking.
  • 13 Hide
    phatboe , July 5, 2012 8:25 AM
    Title is very misleading, scientist have been able to take pictures of single atoms for quite a while now
  • 9 Hide
    anony2004 , July 5, 2012 8:43 AM
    I thought we had already pictured the atom...
  • 17 Hide
    back_by_demand , July 5, 2012 8:53 AM
    Scientist takes picture of atom, scientist uploads to Facebook as the atom has 20 new friends pending
  • 13 Hide
    GeoMan , July 5, 2012 9:39 AM
    phatboeTitle is very misleading, scientist have been able to take pictures of single atoms for quite a while now

    We've been able to resolve single atoms on a surface of atoms, that is probably what you were thinking about. This research is effectively imaging the shadow of a single free atom, that’s the difference here. Whether this counts as taking a picture or is the first time it's been done I'm not sure.
  • 15 Hide
    stingstang , July 5, 2012 9:40 AM
    "Because we are able to predict how dark a single atom should be, as in how much light it should absorb in forming a shadow, we can measure if the microscope is achieving the maximum contrast allowed by physics."
    Holy nerdgasm!
  • -8 Hide
    buzznut , July 5, 2012 9:49 AM
    And this is the picture? Keep working guys..
  • 1 Hide
    ceteras , July 5, 2012 10:52 AM
    anony2004I thought we had already pictured the atom...

    The difference here is that they can take pictures without damaging the subjects, and at least for DNA this is crucial.
    I say that this time they've done an awesome job, not just science for the sake of it.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , July 5, 2012 11:55 AM
    It's an image of a shadow or an absorption patter, not an image of the thing (as "seen" from reflected/backscattered light). Also, it's not a free atom (the confining forces surely alter the electronic states), but it is isolated and not part of a cluster, or on a surface.

    I'll have to read the paper, but an interesting question is what atomic features can be seen in the shadow. Keep in mind that this method won't resolve the nucleus, but probes features of the outer, much larger electronic bits.
  • 4 Hide
    chomlee , July 5, 2012 11:55 AM
    doesn't apple own the rights to that process.......LOL
  • 2 Hide
    killerclick , July 5, 2012 11:56 AM
    IBM took a picture of a molecule a few years back, looks exactly like the plastic models we had at school. I didn't think it's possible to represent an atom with a picture due to the nature of the electron cloud, its size related to the size of the nucleus, etc, but clever scientists pulled it off. Awesome.
  • 6 Hide
    back_by_demand , July 5, 2012 12:34 PM
    One day they will refine and refine to the point we can take a picture of a higgs boson

    and it has a SMILEY FACE on it
  • 3 Hide
    leo2kp , July 5, 2012 1:24 PM
    I'm no physicist, but doesn't it have to have mass to be able to reflect a photon? Also, doesn't it have to be bigger than a photon to take a picture of it? Not sure if the Higgs boson can be captured in a picture :( 
  • 2 Hide
    captain_jonno , July 5, 2012 1:27 PM
    They actually managed to take a picture of the Shadow from a single atom.
  • 1 Hide
    captain_jonno , July 5, 2012 1:28 PM
    Toms article is missing some key points in this summary!
  • 2 Hide
    stevenrix , July 5, 2012 1:49 PM
    Okay cool but ... where is the picture?
  • 3 Hide
    phatboe , July 5, 2012 1:51 PM
    phatboeTitle is very misleading, scientist have been able to take pictures of single atoms for quite a while now

    GeoManWe've been able to resolve single atoms on a surface of atoms, that is probably what you were thinking about. This research is effectively imaging the shadow of a single free atom, that’s the difference here. Whether this counts as taking a picture or is the first time it's been done I'm not sure.

    So, like I said in my original post, the title is misleading...
  • 0 Hide
    vertigo_2000 , July 5, 2012 1:52 PM
    stevenrixOkay cool but ... where is the picture?

    The part in the circular end of the picture is the actual picture... the other graphics are to show the directionality of the "light" used to cause the shadow that they took a picture of.
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