SCIENCE

Atom Shadow: Scientists In Australia Photograph Shadow Of Single Atom (PHOTO)

07/06/2012 08:24 am ET | Updated Jul 06, 2012

It took five years, but researchers at Griffith University in Australia have successfully taken a picture of the shadow of a single atom.

It is the first time an atom's shadow has been photographed, Erik Streed, a physics lecturer at the university and a member of the research team, wrote in a post on The Conversation, an Australian news and analysis site.

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According to a statement from the university and Streed's blog post, the team was able to create the shadow by focusing a laser beam on an atom of the element ytterbium that was suspended in a chamber. The atom produced a shadow, which was then captured by a digital camera.

The university said its one-of-a-kind high-resolution microscope--the lens of which focuses light in a way similar to a lighthouse lens--was key in successfully capturing the shadow of the atom.

"By using the ultra hi-res microscope we were able to concentrate the image down to a smaller area than has been achieved before, creating a darker image which is easier to see," Dave Kielpinski, a professor at the Centre for Quantum Dynamics at Griffith University, said in a written statement.

Writing for Cosmos magazine, Renae Soppe noted that this development could eventually lead to safer methods for imaging living things.

"This is important if you want to look at very small and fragile biological samples such as DNA strands where exposure to too much UV light or X-rays will harm the material," Streed said in the written statement. "We can now predict how much light is needed to observe processes within cells, under optimum microscopy conditions, without crossing the threshold and destroying them."

It's been a big week in particle physics. On Wednesday, scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, announced they had found a particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

LOOK: Shadow of ytterbium atom:

shadow image

In this illustration, a ytterbium atom (blue) casts a shadow as it's passed by an orange laser beam:

single atom shadow cartoon high res

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