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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

Cornell

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

David Muller at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, 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 a 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.

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In 2018, Muller and his team used a 2D material to limit the amount of electron scattering that happens in a thicker material and makes it difficult to tell where the electrons 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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