A Boy and His Atom

Ready for your close-up? I mean, really close up. IBM has released the world’s highest-resolution movie: an animated short film in which what you’re seeing are individual atoms, manipulated by a scanning tunneling microscope. Here is “A Boy and His Atom”:

And here is an explanation of how it was made:

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7 Responses to A Boy and His Atom

  1. Guillaume Morin says:

    This is probably a very dumb question. But what are exactly seeing here? Atoms have no outside shell, right? And I assume the nucleus of the atom would be way to small to be seen. Is it whatever wave they’re sending in the microscope interacting with the electrons and creating the illusion of a sphere? If so, does this mean we could not use the same technique with atoms with a small number of electrons? (say lithium for example)

  2. Pregunton says:

    What about the surface in wich the carbon monoxide atoms are lying? Does anybody know which material is that? I guess it is composed by atoms that are much smaller than the carbon monoxide atoms.

  3. Reginald Selkirk says:

    GM: The technique (atomic force microscopy, or AFM) is not optical, so we are not directly “seeing” anything in the usual way. Rather, a sharp tip is dragged over a surface in a 2D raster, and interaction between the tip and atoms on the surface is recorded as a function of the XY position. The image is a reconstruction from that information. From the description in the “making of” video, the interaction between the tip and the atoms is simply the contact force between the two, which is dominated by electrostatic repulsion of the electron shells. There are many variations where the tunneling current or some other property is the function.
    The high resolution of the raster scan can be accomplished with piezoelectric materials.

  4. Pingback: A Boy and His Atom – IBM’s atom manipulation extravanganza. | Gordon's shares

  5. C4NT says:

    Pregunton – Yes, the material that the carbon monoxide atoms are on is a metal (looked like gold, but could be an alloy). The reason that you don’t “see” them is that the AFM tip is much further away from those atoms, and so doesn’t detect any current from them.


    What is causing the waves & interference patterns around the atoms? Is it electron interference with the substrate?

  6. Cmdr. Awesome says:

    C4NT – according to this ars technica article, the surface was copper.

  7. ashlaban says:

    According to this video the carbon atom apparently creates a ripple in the free electrons of the copper.