Atoms are so small that most images we see of them are taken with high-powered lenses, like the ones in microscopes. But this award-winning photograph, taken by the University of Oxford’s David Nadlinger, was taken with a regular camera.
I promise you, though, the results are anything but ordinary.
Look for the single strontium ion at the center, in between the tips of two needles.
What are you looking at? Well, it’s a single, positively-charged strontium atom suspended in electric fields between the two “needle” electrodes on either side. And get this – the distance between them is a mere 2 millimeters, or the width of a spaghetti noodle.
He accomplished his amazing feat by shooting the right color of a blue-violet laser at the ion, which in turn absorbed the light particles and emitted them back at the camera. Using an extra-long exposure, Nadlinger was able to capture a fleeting moment of light emission as a digital image.
Nadlinger had this to say about his photograph:
“The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the miniscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality. A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.”
And in turn, we are rewarded as well.