SCIENCE
03/29/2013 12:28 pm ET

Nanoparticle In 3D: New Imaging Technique Reveals Atomic Structures, 'Dislocations' (VIDEO)

Ever wanted to know what atoms look like in 3D? Now's your chance, in a new video showing a platinum nanoparticle under extreme magnification.

The video shows a slowly-spinning lattice of platinum atoms rendered in 3D, and from certain perspectives you can see a precisely-ordered structure emerge.

The new view was produced with a novel nano-imaging technique, developed by researchers at UCLA and Northwestern, that allows scientists to view nanoparticle structures in 3D. Until now, scientists could only look at atom arrangements in 2 dimensions.

Aside from making cool videos like this possible, why is it useful to see nano-structure in 3D? It reveals tiny structural irregularities called dislocations. "Dislocations change how strong a material is, so dislocations can have a large role in new materials that are currently being designed (and in some cases are in use) which are built from nanoparticles," study co-author Dr. Laurence Marks, a professor of Materials Science at Northwestern, told The Huffington Post.

The new imaging method may have widespread applications. Marks notes: "There are many technologies where the imaging methodologies can be exploited ranging from catalysts for biofuels to ever smaller electronic devices."

How does it work? It's similar to an atomic-scale CT scan -- researchers take pictures of the nanoparticle from many angles and then piece them together to form a 3D approximation.

To create the video above, the researchers took over 100 images of the particle from different angles, mapping the location of every one of the 27,000 atoms within the particle’s structure.

The research, "Three-dimensional imaging of dislocations in a nanoparticle at atomic resolution," was published March 27 in Nature.

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