Science

Aussie Team Captures Shadow Of A Single Atom

This isn’t a wallpaper design from the seventies, or a close-up picture of the sun. Though it might look a little garish in orange, what you’re actually looking at is the first ever recorded image of an atom’s shadow.

Captured at Griffith University in Brisbane, Queensland, the image was obtained using a custom-made ion trap, which is capable of holding a single atom at a time. Once you can do that, shining light of the correct wavelength past the atom is bound to cause a shadow — it’s just a very, very small shadow.

To make it easier, they used a big atom — Ytterbium in fact, which has an atomic mass of 174 — and cooled it right down to -273°C to keep it stable. They then illuminated it and captured the resulting shadow using a Fresnel lens.

It’s an amazing achievement, and the images might actually go on to be useful, too. The researchers explain that the techniques could be used to create extremely high-res biological imaging systems, that can monitor samples like DNA without damaging them. [Cosmos]

Image by Centre for Quantum Dynamics