Picture of a Single Atom Wins Science Photo Contest

Picture of a Single Atom Wins Science Photo Contest

For the curious: a single positively-charged strontium atom

It seems plausible that this was an accident and it's the first ever atomic photobomb.

A remarkable photo of a single atom trapped by electric fields has just been awarded the top prize in a well-known science photography competition. The photo is titled “Single Atom in an Ion Trap” and was shot by David Nadlinger of the University of Oxford.

You can read more here

I've had taken pictures with trillions of atoms in them and I haven't won a prize or anything.

“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.”

What a nice homage to Carl Sagan.

I'm sure that atom will find love someday

Soon science will provide me with a mean to take dickpics just like everyone else <3

Second

So a Hydrogen atom is the size of the moon. Got it.

How is it so big? Or is it just a super-micro lens? Or both somehow?

Edit: I'm getting a lot of answers, some of which are incorrect or tangental, so I'm gonna paste the answers which I believe answered my question best below, with a permalink so you can give em dat karma if you like

Simple explanation: It's illuminated by a high power laser and the camera is set to long exposure. It makes it appear bigger than it is. https://www.reddit.com/sub/interestingasfuck/comments/7x4o27/picture_of_a_single_atom_wins_scienc... In more detail: https://www.reddit.com/sub/interestingasfuck/comments/7x4o27/picture_of_a_single_atom_wins_scienc...

Also relevant info that I was after: a Strontium attom is.... 4x bigger (by radius) than a Hydrogen atom. So it's not that much less impressive than a picture of a Hydrogen atom. https://www.reddit.com/sub/interestingasfuck/comments/7x4o27/picture_of_a_single_atom_wins_scienc...

But we really need to clear things up, as people will mistakenly believe that dot is the size of an atom: it's a long exposure picture, which means there's a lot of photons from the atom hitting the camera sensor which in turn activates the pixel that we're seeing as the purple dot. In reality a single atom is much much smaller.

tl;dr: camera sensor pixel =! atom

It seems atom photography is scored like golf.

Thats here, thats home, thats us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

For those that don't know the quote. It's a shame we lost him, I bet he'd be in awe of the technological and scientific advances we've developed over the past 22 years since his death.

That kid has the posture of 100-year-old babushka.

It isn't the atom you're seeing, it's a long exposure of it emitting photons. An atom can be as large as 1×10-7 mm (0.5nm).

EDIT: Here's some math:

The gap is 110 pixels wide, so 1 pixel = 1/55mm. The atom is about 6 pixels wide, so it appears 6/55mm wide. The atomic radius of a single strontium atom is 200pm, (2*10-7 mm). Therefore, the diameter is 4*10-7 mm. So, (6/55mm)/(4*10-7 mm) = 272727.272727. That means that the atom appears 27272727% larger.

I think I did my math correctly, I might be wrong.

It keeps a positive attitude

To give you an idea of how small an atom is, The size of a penny compared to the Moon is about the same as the size of a hydrogen atom compared to a penny!

Big money camera take fancy picture

It's quite big if there's only 2 mm between the two rods, I thought atoms were alot smaller

Don't you just hate it when your balls form a covalent bond with the inside of your thigh?

No no no. The moon is a hydrogen atom. And the penny is a penny.

In the center of the picture, a small bright dot is visible – a single positively-charged strontium atom. It is held nearly motionless by electric fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. […] When illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet color, the atom absorbs and re-emits light particles sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph.

So it's a long exposure of a lot of photons emanating from a single atom.

thank you so much for this explanation. I was going nuts trying to figure out how something that big could be a single atom

Thank you! Now if only my girlfriend could understand that.

See, I was over here trying to figure out how they made the apparatus so tiny.

I am not a smart man.

It's illuminated by a high power laser and the camera is set to long exposure. It makes it appear bigger than it is.

Hmmm...there's too many pixels in the picture to be only one atom..

So basically, imagine being on the moon with a really powerful James Webb-sized telescope looking at earth when it is between you and the sun. Every light in the world is off, except for one single LED flashlight.

You take many, many photos of this tiny light until you've captured enough frames of it that you can combine it into a viewable still image. The light from that LED is tiny, but the accumulated images have made it look as big as a shopping mall, even though the emitter is a fraction of that size.

Yes, with that kind of energy, of course...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTJznUkAmIY

There's a lot of people asking for more info, so I thought I'd chime in. I'm a graduate student working in a trap-physics related field, so I understand a bit of what's going on. This photo utilizes Laser Cooling and Ion Trapping, the creators of which were given Nobel Prizes (Laser Cooling in '97 and trapping in 89) and there's some cool shit going on.

This is a photo of a single strontium ion (Sr+). Because the particle is charged, it is (reasonably) easy to confine the particle to a small area using electric fields. Along the axis (where you see the blue / copper looking pieces), confinement is provided by applying a DC (constant) positive voltage. However, it is impossible to confine a particle in 3-D using purely static (fields that don't change with time) fields, so a "rotating saddle" potential is formed along the direction(s) perpendicular to the axis. This is typically provided by applying a large potential (~100 Volts? I forget the typical RF voltages, but somewhere along that order of magnitude) oscillating at RF frequencies (~Mega-hertz, ~109 Hz). This is hard to picture, so here's a decent analogy. Imagine instead of a ball, you have a positively charged ion and the RF voltages create the rotating saddle:

This type of ion trap is called a Linear Paul Trap. See Fig 1a from the following: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Ions-confined-in-a-trapa-A-linear-quadrupole-ion-trap-known-a...

Now, how the **** do you image a single ion? Keep in mind, these particles (there can be hundreds or thousands in a trap!) are oscillating in the trap at various frequencies. If you want to do experiments with them in a very controlled manner, you need to cool (i.e. remove kinetic energy) it. In this case, Sr+ was chosen because it is capable of being laser cooled. To laser cool, you shoot a laser in at just the right frequency so when the atom is moving toward the laser, it sees the the energy of the laser blue-shifted (it's energy shifted just below the actual energy required to absorb!) to the correct frequency. The atom then emits a photon and continues it's oscillation. However, because of the laser de-tuning away from the required energy, the ion effectively emits away a very tiny amount of it's motional energy. This process is very rapid ( <1s) and can get down to ~0.001 Kelvin. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_cooling

Now, how do they image an individual ion? Usually the transitions for laser cooling are in the visible (or near-visible), and so many photons can be absorbed and re-emitted. Typically you see ions imaged with a CCD camera (see Fig 1 of the above link). In this case, with a long exposure you can actually image the (lone) ion in the center of the trap. If you want more evidence, there are tons of papers that have imaged individual ions. Here's a nice photo where the group has controlled the string of ions by playing with the potentials:

https://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/web/60373_web.jpg

And here's a group that made a Coulomb Crystal of thousands of ions, all laser-cooled to milli-Kelvin temps: http://chapmanlabs.gatech.edu/images/Th3pCrystals.png

Lastly, to store ions for this long typically requires ultra-high vacuum (verrrrrrrrrrrrrry low pressure). For reference, room temp. air is typically ~1 atm. Ultra-high vacuum is typically around 10-10 torr, which is roughly ~10-13 atm, or 0.0000000000001 atmospheres. This is to reduce the chance of the Strontium being knocked out of the trap or neutralizing itself (and then it won't be trapped anymore) by stealing an electron from a room temperature particle of residual gas.

EDIT: I forgot to mention: why does the particle appear so big? Those electrodes are probably on the order of ~millimeters, but the real limit here is from the camera used to image the ion. Usually, very precise CCD cameras are used for this type of thing, and even then the particle appears to be ~micrometers across. There are a LOT of photons coming off that thing, and there is still some residual motion, so the ion is emitting light at most points in it's oscillatory motion around the trap.

TLDR: Laser cooling, long exposure photo and ion trap in a super good vacuum

I was about to call BS, but man... it really is a single atom! I am amazed 10/10 would change my mind again.

wait.. How many atoms can I get for a penny again?

Will probably end up with some negative asshole though.

That's quite a bit

Probably a really high resolution image sensor using an enormous, really expensive bi-telecentric lens.

Edit: this is based on the image description on the source site saying it was captured with a regular camera, bouncing laser light off of electrons.

Why say lot word when few word do trick?

I can’t believe I’m pinch-to-zoom-ing in to see an atom. WATTBA.

Whole lot of idk what that is going on here in this pic

Positively charged strontium atom being held stationary by a negatively charged "ion trap" undergoing periodic excitements by a lazer thus producing individual photons while being observed by a camera taking a large number of quick exposures that are then combined together in order to show the approximate location of said atom. And because the universe is obviously a woman it may be the best we can ever do because she doesn't like being pinned down.

Now I need a drink.

No no no... You get a moon for an atom. A penny is almost worthless.

Here's the highest-res photo I could find

[3000 x 3000]

Here's the highest-res photo I could find

I hope that comment was ionic.

There’s goosebumps you get from reading something cool, and then there’s the inner goosebumps that tickle your soul when you read this. Love this quote.

About 10 nano-skoch, around 10-16 smiggens.

https://zenpencils.com/comic/100-carl-sagan-pale-blue-dot/

Is a cool, illustrated, full version of the quote.

Really? But like, uh, light wavelengths and all that physics stuff I don't really understand. It seems like it should be impossible to create a photo of a single atom.

edit: Read another comment - it sounds like they are exciting the electrons with a different color laser, and then the electrons are emitting photons. So yes, they are photographically recording the light from a single atom, but it's not reflected light like a "normal" photo, rather they are recording a single atom "glowing." Cool!

Wow. me want. Me want

When are we getting photos with negative atoms?

Scary lookin
Here's a higher-res version. Amazing post!

EDIT: Whoops, this is actually uncropped but lower-res. My bad.

Amazing post!

EDIT: Whoops, this is actually uncropped but lower-res. My bad.

Dunno my balls favor Van der Waals forces for thigh adhesion.

So, uhh, can you explain to me what that is in English? For a friend.

It's photoshopped. The mushroom cloud image is from this.

Edit: /u/merreborn has found the original source image, from the Upshot-Knothole Grable test.

It's photoshopped. The mushroom cloud image is from .

Edit: /u/merreborn has found the original source image, from the Upshot-Knothole Grable test.

They just want to get a reaction

It would be easier if she existed.

When me president they see... they see.

She only exists when I’m not observing her.

Yeah, but the long exposure makes it much more visible, and also appear larger, than if you were viewing it real-time in-person.

Edit: also, as /u/OreoDragon pointed out, minute displacements of the atom during the exposure will also result in the atom/point-source-of-photons appearing larger.

Same. I was thinking 'geeeeez those allen keys must be tiny.'

"In the center of the picture, a small bright dot is visible – a single positively-charged strontium atom. It is held nearly motionless by electric fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. […] When illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet color, the atom absorbs and re-emits light particles sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph.

This picture was taken through a window of the ultra-high vacuum chamber that houses the trap. Laser-cooled atomic ions provide a pristine platform for exploring and harnessing the unique properties of quantum physics. They are used to construct extremely accurate clocks or, as in this research, as building blocks for future quantum computers, which could tackle problems that stymie even today’s largest supercomputers."

Source

It isn't the atom you're seeing, it's a long exposure of it emitting photons

but isn't that the very nature of seeing? when photons (emitted or reflected) are received by our eyes.

Soon as we make enough antimatter to photograph.

So what scale are we observing here?

I think these days a penny is worth about as much to the Moon as it's worth to a penny

To the windows

van der waals

till the sweat drop down my balls

They nuked it.

It's a base instinct.

Not to be pedantic since the numbers are so fucking huge, but it's vastly more than that. By like, a lot. A grain of sand which this looks about as big as has approximately 50 quintillion atoms. That is 50,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms.

5 x 1019 atoms. Putting it in a practical statement, that's roughly equivalent to how many 12 year olds on Xbox live have fucked my mother.

Nah, its tiny. But it emits quite a bit of light, so it fills one pixel of the camera, plus a bit in the surroundings due to scattering on the aperture and the surfaces.

"Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot."

'Atomic Photobomb.'

If that's not a band name, it should be.

Nice analogy, this is why I like reddit at times

They’re sure to have good chemistry

What. A. Time. To. Be. Alive. For those who are wondering

the bright spot you see as the atom is a lot brighter and bigger than the actual atom is

Yes, but that tiny dot is far larger than a single atom. It's a single atom emitting light, making it visible.

What you see is not a normal image of an atom. This is not how it would look like to your eye. The problem is atoms are too small for visible light to capture. It just passes through without being reflected. No reflection no light that bounces back to the camera that it could catch.

I'm not sure about the image of this particular setup up if I had to guess it is a composition of a camera and a special instrument that only captured the tiny slit in the middle. Both images were than overlayed.

Now, how to capture an atom? Well, an atom is not like you'd expect a round solid object. It has no walls. It only consists out of different kinds of energies and forces.

These forces can interact with for example electrons you shot at it. If you now capture the electrons that interacted with the atom you can calculate the shape of it by comparing how the electrons have passed through it without the atom and with. This is what is called an electron microscope but I'm not sure if this is what they used to make this picture. Either way I'm pretty sure this is a composition not an image made with one camera alone. I could be wrong though.

Edit:

So according to some comments they shot this thing with a high energy violoet-UV laser not an electron beam. What happens is the light stimulates the outter most electrons of the atom to jump basically. They raise their energy level for a short time which is not stable so they bounce back into place. Bouncing back into place they lose or emit the energy they absorbed before as photons aka light. This light is then caputred as it seems by a regular camera. If this is true this is much more amazing then I thought. I honestly didn't know there was a way to make atoms visible using regular cameras. I'll have to read up on it.

Btw. In case you want to learn more about this much of that is covered in optoelectronics. Simply google for "optoelectronics script ext:pdf" and be amazed.

Where's the American flag in all of this?

Hey does someone who isn’t talking out of their ass have an explanation?

Edit: Hey everyone, it was a joke. This comment is pretty high up so I made it after I got to the actual explanation from OP.

Whats the story behind this one

More info here: https://nqit.ox.ac.uk/content/nqit-quantum-photography-competition-round-one


In the centre of the picture, a small bright dot is visible – a single positively-charged strontium atom. It is held nearly motionless by electric fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. (The distance between the small needle tips is about two millimetres.) 

When illuminated with a specific shade of blue-violet laser light, the atom absorbs and re-emits photons sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph. This picture was taken through a window of the ultra-high vacuum chamber that houses the trap. 

Laser-cooled atomic ions provide a pristine platform for exploring and harnessing the unique properties of quantum physics. They are used to construct extremely accurate clocks or, as in our research, as building blocks for future quantum computers, which could tackle problems that stymie even today’s largest supercomputers.


Edit: Credits to David Nadlinger from Oxford University for this wonderful piece of art. If you enjoyed it, show him some love on twitter @klickverbot! Scientists deserve the recognition.



/u/PirateGloves was wondering why they used strontium in particular. Well basically, strontium's electrons emit radiation at a much higher frequency than alternatives like caesium, which allows you to make more precise measurements on its state. This can be used for atomic clocks or quantum computing.

So it's not that only strontium can be held motionless like this in an ion trap, it's just the most useful one for research.



/u/vito1221 pointed out below that the atom appears to be far too large compared to the instrument around it. That's correct - it's not even close to being physically accurate! This could be because of how light diffuses around it, or it could be due to the atom's movements being captured by long exposure, which would show the "sphere" within which that motion is confined.

Either way, the width of a strontium atom is ~400 picometres (pm), which is around 0.0000004 millimetres or 0.0000000004 metres. Atoms are absolutely miniscule! More so than we could imagine. To give you a better idea of scale in the universe, here is a fantastic diagram from the wikipedia page on "orders of magnitude".

More info here: https://nqit.ox.ac.uk/content/nqit-quantum-photography-competition-round-one

In the centre of the picture, a small bright dot is visible – a single positively-charged strontium atom. It is held nearly motionless by electric fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. (The distance between the small needle tips is about two millimetres.)

When illuminated with a specific shade of blue-violet laser light, the atom absorbs and re-emits photons sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph. This picture was taken through a window of the ultra-high vacuum chamber that houses the trap.

Laser-cooled atomic ions provide a pristine platform for exploring and harnessing the unique properties of quantum physics. They are used to construct extremely accurate clocks or, as in our research, as building blocks for future quantum computers, which could tackle problems that stymie even today’s largest supercomputers.

Edit: Credits to David Nadlinger from Oxford University for this wonderful piece of art. If you enjoyed it, show him some love on twitter @klickverbot! Scientists deserve the recognition.

/u/PirateGloves was wondering why they used strontium in particular. Well basically, strontium's electrons emit radiation at a much higher frequency than alternatives like caesium, which allows you to make more precise measurements on its state. This can be used for atomic clocks or quantum computing.

So it's not that only strontium can be held motionless like this in an ion trap, it's just the most useful one for research.

/u/vito1221 pointed out below that the atom appears to be far too large compared to the instrument around it. That's correct - it's not even close to being physically accurate! This could be because of how light diffuses around it, or it could be due to the atom's movements being captured by long exposure, which would show the "sphere" within which that motion is confined.

Either way, the width of a strontium atom is ~400 picometres (pm), which is around 0.0000004 millimetres or 0.0000000004 metres. Atoms are absolutely miniscule! More so than we could imagine. To give you a better idea of scale in the universe, here is a from the wikipedia page on "orders of magnitude".

Astronomer here! This is actually how we take pictures of dim lighted space objects like galaxies. The university of Wisconsin took the very first picture of a black hole this week using this technique.  I have the pic somewhere here, just a second.

Edit: Here is the pic. Kinda nsfw.

Astronomer here! This is actually how we take pictures of dim lighted space objects like galaxies. The university of Wisconsin took the very first picture of a black hole this week using this technique. I have the pic somewhere here, just a second.

Edit:

It's confusing me that we can see the atom but we can also see the metal electrodes that are presumably made of atoms.

Listening to the audiobook, read by him, is one of the greatest joys I've ever had listening to something.

Strong bonds will do that.

I tried to separate my balls but the amount of energy it required just created two new balls.

This is actually a very reasonable response. You had the same problem with what you were seeing as someone who was mystified that an atom would be that large. Don't be so down on your thought process.

According to the article, the electrodes are 2mm apart, but the image was taken as a long exposure of photons bouncing off an atom held in an electric field so visually the "pale blue dot" isn't to the exact scale of a single atom

That doesn't even remotely satisfy my curiosity regarding this image.

Oh boy did that ever take a turn

HI IM GARY BUSEY!!!

I mean that's how we see everything. You aren't seeing light reflect off of objects. You are seeing objects absorb photons and emit other photons at a certain frequency.

What is that in picocubits?

When i hold the penny up next to the moon, it apears about 1/4 the size of the moon, that atom must be huge.

Are pennies made of cheese?

The Moon thinks about a penny?

What’s the story behind this one

Its the light gathered from a single atom. The white dot we are looking at is probably 100 billion times the size of an actual atom.

Both. The metal things are very tiny, I think it says that they're 2mm across. But this is also a long exposure picture, taken with constant light from a laser bombarding the atom, giving it a lot of time to produce enough light to show up on a pixel of the camera.