The best image of an atom to date was obtained by scientists at Cornell University (USA) using a lensless microscope and an advanced algorithm that can reconstruct the image from patterns resulting from the object’s interaction with an electron beam.
To get the picture, the scientists used an electron microscope to magnify a crystal made of praseodymium (Pr), a type of mineral, 100 million times larger. The microscope used does not have a crystal lens like the one we use in school laboratories, but rather sends out an electron beam to detect patterns on the object through interaction. The patterns can then be translated into images.
The big idea of the researchers was to use their own algorithm that is able to create a very high resolution image based on the standards. The only blurring that can be seen in the picture comes from the movement of the atoms themselves, a constant shudder. The technique used is called picography.
The result was an image of immense precision on the order of picometers or a trillion meters.
The description of the study that led to the photo was published in an article in the journal Science in late May.
“In addition to setting a new record, the feat leads us to a new final limit for resolution [de imagens]. We can now easily find out where the atoms are. This opens up a lot of new possibilities for things that we have wanted to do for a long time, ”said physicist David Muller, one of the researchers, in a statement from Cornell University.
By 2018, a group led by Müller had set the previous record for dissolution. Muller is Professor of Engineering in the institution’s School of Physics Engineering and a director of the Kavli Institute for Nanoscale Science at Cornell.
For scientists studying matter in its smallest parts (like the atoms and particles in it), the novelty provides an opportunity to see reactions on an unprecedented scale, which could lead to other discoveries and improvements in current technologies.
The Cornell researchers are now planning to further improve the image by cooling the sample, which will make the atoms less shaky and should result in a less blurry photo.