First photo of shadow of single atom

Jul 03, 2012

In an international scientific breakthrough, a Griffith University research team has been able to photograph the shadow of a single atom for the first time.

"We have reached the extreme limit of microscopy; you can not see anything smaller than an atom using ," Professor Dave Kielpinski of Griffith University's Centre for in Brisbane, Australia.

"We wanted to investigate how few are required to cast a shadow and we proved it takes just one," Professor Kielpinski said.

Published this week in Nature Communications, " imaging of a single atom "is the result of work over the last 5 years by the Kielpinski/Streed research team.

At the heart of this Griffith University achievement is a super high-resolution microscope, which makes the shadow dark enough to see.

No other facility in the world has the capability for such extreme .

Holding an atom still long enough to take its photo, while remarkable in itself, is not new technology; the atom is isolated within a chamber and held in by electrical forces.

Professor Kielpinski and his colleagues trapped single atomic ions of the element ytterbium and exposed them to a specific frequency of light. Under this light the atom's shadow was cast onto a detector, and a digital camera was then able to capture the image.

"By using the ultra hi-res microscope we were able to concentrate the image down to a smaller area than has been achieved before, creating a darker image which is easier to see", Professor Kielpinski said.

The precision involved in this process is almost beyond imagining.

"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," Professor Kielpinski said.

Research team member, Dr Erik Streed, said the implications of these findings are far reaching.

"Such experiments help confirm our understanding of and may be useful for quantum computing," Dr Streed said.

There are also potential follow-on benefits for biomicroscopy.

"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."

"This is important if you want to look at very small and fragile biological samples such as DNA strands where exposure to too much UV light or x-rays will harm the material.

"We can now predict how much light is needed to observe processes within cells, under optimum conditions, without crossing the threshold and destroying them."

And this may get biologists thinking about things in a different way.

"In the end, a little bit of light just might be enough to get the job done."

Explore further: Serial time-encoded amplified microscopy for ultrafast imaging based on multi-wavelength laser

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User comments : 26

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Ophelia
5 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2012
Interesting.

But how "precise" is this "photo"? What does Heisenberg say about the size of the "shadow" versus the actual size of the atom?
packrat
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 03, 2012
That's an interesting picture. It looks like a particle shadow in the center but still has what looks at least to me like a wave pattern around the outside of it. A good example of being both at the same time?
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2012
@packrat - Heh at first i thought they were orbitals, but then i see it's an ion... so maybe you're both right (Ophelia too)..?
Ionian
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2012
My guess is that it is a single trapped atom.
Since it isn't a statistical ensemble of atoms, there is no atom "wave". The concept of a "D'Broglie wavelength" of atoms only makes sense when you have a statistical ensemble, I believe.

On the other hand the nucleus has many protons and neutrons and so there can be some "nuclear wave".

The electron cloud wave is certainly not visible, since its an ion.
Ophelia
5 / 5 (1) Jul 03, 2012
I had thought the pattern around the dark spot was probably a diffraction pattern of the light being used to "image" the atom and had nothing to do with seeing electron orbitals or nuclear orbitals (which I doubt could be seen under any circumstance). Only the inner "shell" orbitals of an electron cloud have a spherical probability configuration after all - 1s, 2s, 3s, etc.
jlantrip
5 / 5 (3) Jul 03, 2012
There are still electrons orbiting the atom, its just an ion meaning it has less or more electrons than protons but I think ophelia is right on not being able to observe them in this experiment anyway. Ionian is right as well, the wave is only a wave before it collapses and is specifically measurable, and only becomes obvious with a larger pool of measurements to reference.
jlantrip
5 / 5 (6) Jul 03, 2012
It seems to me they are using a specific wavelength of light because that is exactly what the atom can absorb, not sure which wavelength or atomic shell it is absorbing into but once it absorbs the light they are capturing the resulting 'shadow'. The interference could actually have to do with the photons themselves..
sigfpe
5 / 5 (4) Jul 03, 2012
@Ionian I'm not sure what you're referring to. Single particles, and single atoms, are both represented as waves, whether or not they are part of an ensemble. The usual Schrodinger equation describes the wavefunction of a single particle and it makes accurate predictions for the behaviour of a single particle. As some of those predictions are probabilistic in nature, you may need multiple events to collect enough data to test the predictions. In this case there may have been a single atom, but accumulation over many photons.
Hengine
5 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2012
Are those rings an interference pattern?
Archea
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 03, 2012
The atom indeed is way smaller than the wavelength of light and it cannot cast the shadow by itself. But when it's excited with light of certain wavelength, then it ejects an electrons into outside, which are falling back again repeatedly like the juggler. Such artifact serves as a large dipole, which absorbs the waves from much larger area like the antenna. If it wouldn't happen, then all materials would be transparent, because the atoms are very tiny and there is huge space between them.
The concept of a "D'Broglie wavelength" of atoms only makes sense when you have a statistical ensemble
Nope, even single atom can interfere with double slit.
Are those rings an interference pattern?
They should be - a similar interference patterns appear around every obstacle.
Archea
Jul 03, 2012
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
sigfpe
5 / 5 (2) Jul 03, 2012
@hengine Here are some pictures of the shadow you expect from a small opaque circular object due to diffraction: http://en.wikiped...n_images
HatersGonnaHate
1.5 / 5 (8) Jul 04, 2012
Seems as though this atom casts a shadow ever so slightly larger than what Venereal Decarian's entire brain would.

Kind Regards
DavidW
1.5 / 5 (10) Jul 04, 2012
Seems as though this atom casts a shadow ever so slightly larger than what Venereal Decarian's entire brain would.

Kind Regards


We have children dying preventable deaths about every 5 seconds, about 1,750 animals a second, pollution, warming, nuclear issues, wars, corruption, disease, technological advancement without principle, food and water are running out, population grows...
I hope you learn what life is about sooner, rather than later. We need all hands on deck. Its all coming down to the wire now. The only thing that will fix it all is the truth. Try harder to find yourself and so will I. Its there. :)

Thank you all for your comments. I learned some more.
DavidW
1 / 5 (1) Jul 04, 2012
This is live right now on the Higgs..
http://www.wired....gs-talk/
Ionian
not rated yet Jul 04, 2012
The photo of the shadow has "spirals" or "rings".
I assume its because the shadow has them.
Is it because the atom/ion is vibrating due to heat and so the shadow moves in its trap, and the exposure is a "blurred picture"?
Ionian
not rated yet Jul 04, 2012
Are the rings a diffraction pattern?
If so, then what is the source of the two or more waves that are superimposing on each other?
If the source the beam of photons being "shot" at the atom?
Is the vibration of the atom due mostly to heat or mostly due to it being disturbed by the beam of photons?
Mike_Massen
1.8 / 5 (5) Jul 04, 2012
(sigh) Details matter to all good scientists...

The atom was a ?
The ionisation state was ?
The temperature was ?
The freq of incident light was ?
The intensity was ?
The detector was ?
The equiv shutter speed was ?
The pixel represents ?
This a singular snap or a cumulative composite ?
etc
etc

tkjtkj
1 / 5 (2) Jul 05, 2012
(sigh) Details matter to all good scientists...

The atom was a ?
The ionisation state was ?
The temperature was ?
The freq of incident light was ?
The intensity was ?
The detector was ?
The equiv shutter speed was ?
The pixel represents ?
This a singular snap or a cumulative composite ?
etc
etc



Details .. DETAILS!!! You're such a stickler!!!!
WHO needs details, when it's all so obvious! errr.... errr... uhhh.. mmmmm ...
slayerwulfe
not rated yet Jul 07, 2012
many of the comments are raising questions for me that my first thought, are there any other images. if these are waves then a measurement in Angstrom units may be possible, am i actually seeing a shadow? i think so. is a target necessary to show waves?
yonko
1 / 5 (2) Jul 07, 2012
The TRUTH is there is no ultimate truth--except your & our death--& what we value & learn while we are here. You have your own priorities & each individual has their own, so you might get far with your wits & verbiage, but that won't open the Gates of Truth, or the discovery of "god," or whatever yoi
Seems as though this atom casts a shadow ever so slightly larger than what Venereal Decarian's entire brain would.

Kind Regards


We have children dying preventable deaths about every 5 seconds, about 1,750 animals a second, pollution, warming, nuclear issues, wars, corruption, disease, technological advancement without principle, food and water are running out, population grows...
I hope you learn what life is about sooner, rather than later. We need all hands on deck. Its all coming down to the wire now. The only thing that will fix it all is the truth. Try harder to find yourself and so will I. Its there. :)

Thank you all for your comments. I learned some more.[/u
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Jul 07, 2012
If so, then what is the source of the two or more waves that are superimposing on each other?
It looks similar to a double-vortex http://www.youtub...TOcfF99o
Bowler_4007
1 / 5 (1) Jul 08, 2012
Seems as though this atom casts a shadow ever so slightly larger than what Venereal Decarian's entire brain would.

Kind Regards


We have children dying preventable deaths about every 5 seconds, about 1,750 animals a second, pollution, warming, nuclear issues, wars, corruption, disease, technological advancement without principle, food and water are running out, population grows...
I hope you learn what life is about sooner, rather than later. We need all hands on deck. Its all coming down to the wire now. The only thing that will fix it all is the truth. Try harder to find yourself and so will I. Its there. :)

Thank you all for your comments. I learned some more.

some problems aren't that easy to solve and i would say science deserves as much attention as anything else, despite what you may believe science can help
ziphead
1 / 5 (2) Jul 08, 2012
Looks like an inside of the Dune worm.
Fakeer
not rated yet Jul 08, 2012
From the physical model we know that the atom is mostly empty space (even for a large lanthanide like this one). So what is really blocking the light? I'm assuming if the electron cloud is blocking it then the incident photons are just getting lost in exciting the outer orbitals.
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (3) Jul 09, 2012
It's not the shadow of an atom... it's a speck of dust on the lense.

"Oh Noooooooooooo - we fucked it up!"
patnclaire
not rated yet Jul 10, 2012
Santayana time, commentors. I remember IBM did this back in the 1980s. Published it in one of their journals. It was B&W, of course. From what I recall, this looks similar to that one from 30 years ago. My, my how we regress. Public schools do a wonderful job of educating youth.