Scientists have X-rayed a single atom for the first time

A team of scientists photographed a single atom using X-rays. And according to the study published in the journal Nature, it offers innovative advantages over other techniques.

What does x-ray scanning of an atom actually mean?

Before Hla and his team’s discovery, X-ray imaging techniques could only target clusters of about 10,000 or more atoms, according to the scientists.

The reason for this limit was that the X-ray signal emitted by a single atom was simply too weak to be detected by conventional methods. To overcome this, the researchers used a technique called synchrotron X-ray scanning tunnelling microscopy, or SX-STM.

Briefly, SX-STM combines X-ray imaging with a specialized microscope that can image atomic surfaces using an extremely fine conductive tip that tunnels electrons excited by X-rays. Hla describes these resulting electrons as having spectra that are like “fingerprints” elementary, which can identify exactly which atom they are dealing with.

Both synchrotron X-ray scanning and STM are old techniques, but making them work in tandem has proven difficult. Hla and his team have spent most of the past 12 years perfecting their technique.

For their latest findings, the team used SX-STM to image an iron atom and a terbium atom inside a molecular host and were able to detect the individual chemical states of both.

In the future, this could allow scientists to more precisely manipulate the atoms contained in the host molecules, and Hla has not said a word yet about how big this could be. He said only that “this discovery will transform the world.”

Tags: x-ray

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