Artstrip world

For the first time, physicists X-ray a single atom

The most powerful microscopes had already given us images of individual atoms. But without making it possible to identify its nature. For this, physicists needed to be able to X-ray them. X-ray them. It is now possible.

You may also be interested

[EN VIDÉO] The Flight of the X-Ray Bumblebee To study flight muscles in insects, a bumblebee was filmed with…

X-rays are used in airports to scan luggage. But also in hospitals, to spot broken bones. NASA has equipped the Curiosity rover with it to enable it to analyze the composition of Martian rocks. It is one of the most important uses of X-rays today. A team of researchers led by a physicist from the University of Ohio (United States) has just made a spectacular advance in this area by succeeding in x-raying a single atom.

It should be noted that, until now, the sensitivity of the instruments did not make it possible to probe samples of less than one attogram. Understand less than 10-18 grams. It’s tiny. But it still represents some 10,000 atoms. We understand better why scientists talk about “dream come true”.

“This discovery will transform our world”

“Atoms can be routinely imaged with scanning microscopes, but without X-rays you can’t tell what they’re made of. We can now detect exactly the type of a particular atom, one atom at a time, and simultaneously measure its chemical state.”rejoices Saw Wai Hla, physicist at the University of Ohio, in a press release. “This technology could revolutionize research and give rise to new technologies in areas such as quantum information and trace element detection in environmental and medical research, to name a few”completes Tolulope Michael Ajayi, first author of the work. “It is indisputable, this discovery will transform our world”adds Saw Wai Hla.

This information taken from the first X-ray image of an atom

No less than twelve years that the physicist has been working on the development of this technology. The road has been long. We understand his enthusiasm.

Those that the researchers finally managed to identify are an iron atom (Fe) and a terbium atom (Tb) inserted into molecules. All thanks to an installation specially designed for this purpose. Because X-ray radiation from a single atom is extremely weak, the researchers improved existing detectors by positioning a metal tip in close proximity to the sample. To more efficiently collect electrons excited by X-rays. Scientists call the technique X-ray synchrotron scanning tunneling microscopy (SX-STM).

The primary motivation of the Ohio University researchers was to develop a way to successfully understand the chemical and physical properties of materials at the fundamental level. Based on an individual atom. In addition to obtaining the X-ray signature of an atom, the main objective was thus to use this technique to study the effect of the environment on a single rare earth atom. “We also detected the chemical states of individual atomssays Saw Wai Hla. And by comparing the chemical states of an iron atom and a terbium atom inside molecular hosts, we find that the second, a rare earth group metal, is rather isolated and does not change d chemical state while the first interacts strongly with its environment”.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *