Atom’s shadow has been photographed for the first time in history; Research

Artist's rendition of a single atom shadowResearchers have captured the photograph of a single atom for the first time in history.

This research has been done by a team of researchers from Queensland’s Griffith University’s centre for quantum dynamics in Brisbane and published online in the journal Nature.

According to the Professor David Kielpinski, the image has been taken by utilizing the extreme limit of microscopy as the scientists have used the super high-resolution microscopy that is not yet available anywhere in the world.

“You cannot see anything smaller than an atom using visible light,” Prof Kielpinski said in a statement.

“We wanted to investigate how few atoms are required to cast a shadow, and we proved it takes just one.”

Scientists worked on a single atom of the element ytterbium, which was held by electrical forces while exposing it to a certain frequency of light thereby generating a shadow that was photographed by scientists.

This research could help in potential understanding of physics and how the different particles of the world work. According to Erik Streed, a team member, this could revolutionize the quantum computing and 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,” Dr Streed said.

“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.”

You can read the abstract of the paper here,

Absorption imaging has played a key role in the advancement of science from van Leeuwenhoek’s discovery of red blood cells to modern observations of dust clouds in stellar nebulas and Bose–Einstein condensates. Here we show the first absorption imaging of a single atom isolated in a vacuum. The optical properties of atoms are thoroughly understood, so a single atom is an ideal system for testing the limits of absorption imaging. A single atomic ion was confined in an RF Paul trap and the absorption imaged at near wavelength resolution with a phase Fresnel lens. The observed image contrast of 3.1 (3)% is the maximum theoretically allowed for the imaging resolution of our set-up. The absorption of photons by single atoms is of immediate interest for quantum information processing. Our results also point out new opportunities in imaging of light-sensitive samples both in the optical and X-ray regimes.

Via: News Australia


Erik W. Streed, Andreas Jechow, Benjamin G. Norton & David Kielpinski, (2012). Absorption imaging of a single atom. Nature, doi:10.1038/ncomms1944

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