This is the most detailed look at individual atoms ever captured

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A world-record-breaking close-up of atoms in a crystal


The highest-resolution image of atoms has now been captured, breaking a record set in 2018.

David Muller at Cornell University in the US and his colleagues captured this image using a praseodymium orthoscandate crystal. They used a technique called ptychography, in which they shone x-rays on the crystal and then used the angles of scattered electrons to work out the shape of the atoms that scattered them.

This image is double the resolution of the another zoomed-in image of atoms made in 2018 by Muller and his team, which was itself triple the resolution of others taken at the time with different techniques.

At that time, Muller and his team used a 2D material in 2018 to limit the amount of electron scattering that happens in a thicker material and makes it difficult to tell where they had scattered from.

“The key breakthrough we had this year was we figured out a way to unscramble this multiple scattering, and this is an 80-year-old problem,” says Muller. “For 80 years we haven’t had a general solution and now with some very clever algorithms developed by our colleagues [who work with x-rays] and then modified for electron scattering, we were able to untangle this multiple scattering.”

This allowed the team to look at thicker samples and achieve a better resolution. The blurring in the current image comes from the movement of the atoms themselves.

“We can do a little bit better by cooling the sample down because when you cool the sample, the atoms don’t jiggle as much,” says Muller.

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.abg2533

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