‘This discovery will transform the world.’ Scientists X-Ray A Single Atom For The First Time To Analyze Exactly What Inside
According to a study published in the journal Nature, this process of using X-ray on a single atom offers huge advantages over other techniques.
Sai Wai Hla, a physicist at Ohio University, was behind the breakthrough, and this is the image he captured.
“Atoms can be routinely imaged with scanning probe microscopes, but without X-rays one cannot tell what they are made of,” Hla said in a press release. “We can now detect exactly the type of a particular atom, one atom-at-a-time, and can simultaneously measure its chemical state,” Hla added. “Once we are able to do that, we can trace the materials down to the ultimate limit of just one atom.”
Before the breakthrough by Hla and his team, X-ray imaging could only capture groups of at least 10,000 atoms because the X-ray signal from a single atom was too weak to detect conventionally.
To overcome this limitation, they used a method called synchrotron X-ray scanning tunneling microscopy (SX-STM).
SX-STM combines X-ray imaging with a specialized microscope equipped with an ultra-fine conducting tip that interacts with electrons excited by X-rays.
These electrons act like unique “fingerprints” for each element, allowing scientists to identify individual atoms.
Hla and his team spent 12 years perfecting a technique that combines synchrotron X-ray scanning and scanning tunneling microscopy (STM). In their recent study, they used this technique to image an iron atom and a terbium atom inside a molecular host. They were able to detect the individual chemical states of both atoms. This could enable scientists to manipulate atoms within host molecules with greater precision, potentially leading to significant advancements in the field.
Hla certainly thinks so. “This discovery will transform the world,” he said.
We know the atoms are certainly excited.