Scientists make holograms of atoms using electrons

January 6, 2011 By Lisa Zyga, feature

This velocity map image shows the velocity distribution of ionized electrons, which are used to create a hologram of a Xenon atom. Image credit: Y. Huismans, et al. ©2010 Science.
( -- While holography is often associated with artistic 3D images, it can also be used for many other purposes. In a new study, scientists have created holograms of atoms using laser-driven electron motion, which could lead to a new type of ultra-fast photoelectron spectroscopy. In the future, this type of holography could enable scientists to study the structures of molecules in a more direct way than before.

The scientists, Ymkje Huismans from the FOM-Institute AMOLF in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and an international research team have published their study in a recent issue of .

“What we have experimentally demonstrated is that it is possible to make holograms by taking an electron out of a molecule and, using a laser field, redirect the electron toward the molecule,” coauthor Marc Vrakking, of the FOM-Institute AMOLF and the Max Born Institute in Berlin, told

In their experiments, the scientists beamed an intense infrared laser light at an atom or molecule, which resulted in the atom or molecule becoming ionized and releasing an electron. The laser field causes the liberated electron to oscillate away from and toward the ion. Sometimes, an electron and ion collide, releasing a very short burst of radiation.

Because the is fully coherent, meaning it always has the same phase, the scientists realized that they could apply holographic techniques to record information about the ion and electron. The key to holographic electron imaging is to observe the interference between a reference wave (which is emitted by the electron and doesn’t interact with the ion) and a signal wave (which scatters off the ion and encodes its structure). When the reference wave and signal wave interfere on a detector, the encoded information about the electron and ion is stored and can be viewed in the future. As the scientists explained, the result is a hologram of an atom produced by its own electrons.

The researchers also developed theoretical models to simulate their measurements, confirming that the hologram had stored spatial and temporal information about the and ions. By using the holographic structures to develop a new kind of ultra-fast , researchers could be able to directly measure electron and movements on the attosecond timescale. This ability would be useful for understanding chemical reactions at the most basic level, particularly in that cannot be easily studied by other methods.

Explore further: Scientists track electrons in molecules

More information: Y. Huismans, et al. “Time-Resolved Holography with Photoelectrons.” Science Express. 16 December 2010. DOI:10.1126/science.1198450


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5 / 5 (7) Jan 06, 2011
What could be really cool about this is if they find a way to take advantage of the fact that if you view a hologram with a longer wave reference source, the original image appears magnified.

This article does not give the "wavelength" of the "reference" wave, but if that wavelength is very short and there is a way of using a much longer wavelength "reference" to reconstruct the image, then they might get a very magnified image. Perhaps even finer details of the atom itself might be seen than what this article indicates.
not rated yet Jan 06, 2011
That would definitely be cool if that was possible. If I understand the details of atomic structure correctly, though, you would only get a very grainy picture the more you zoomed in.
1 / 5 (5) Jan 06, 2011
Galaxies appear to be self-similar fractal analogues of an atomic nucleus, much like vast molecular clouds are larger scale structures composed of hydrogen atoms. I have a great story on the milky way galaxy bubbles being a carbon or oxygen analogue at

3 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2011
My scientific take is that it looks a lot like an electric-fire muscular tubular tract leading from the uterus to the exterior of the body in a female placental mammal.
5 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2011
My scientific take is that it looks a lot like an electric-fire muscular tubular tract leading from the uterus to the exterior of the body in a female placental mammal.

1 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2011
Well at least someone saw it before it was JERKED OFF this site. ;)
5 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2011
The caption of the picture is technically incorrect. "Ionization is the physical process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles such as electrons or other ions"(Wikipedia). So the electron itself can't be ionized! There is no such thing as ionized electrons, i.e. "electron ions"
not rated yet Jan 07, 2011
My scientific take is that it looks a lot like an electric-fire muscular tubular tract leading from the uterus to the exterior of the body in a female placental mammal.


A technical and politically correct way of refering to the doorway from which all of us enter the world. Very well said!
5 / 5 (1) Jan 07, 2011
I know little about these things. Just wondering: how likely is it that the ability to measure electron movements on the attosecond timescale, and record spatial and temporal information, would enable researchers to bypass the principle that you cannot know position and velocity of a particle at the same time?
not rated yet Jan 07, 2011
I thought a hologram was a projection of a 3d image into an empty space. A holograph is similar but is actually a very high resolution photograph which can present a 3d image from a film. I found this substitution of words confusing.
1 / 5 (2) Jan 09, 2011
a low res micrograph of a magnet (field)
not rated yet Jan 15, 2011
This is some interesting science work. The technology of imaging atoms from their own electrons (nano-MRI ?) can be used to advance other imaging and measurement systems.
Good stuff.

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