Scientists in the United States manage to make the first x-ray of a single atom

A group of scientists in the United States has just accomplished something that could revolutionize materials science: They have managed to make the first x-ray of a single atom. With this advance, new technologies could be developed in areas such as quantum information or medical research, and the advance is not for less, since up to now they could only x-ray attograms, that is, 10,000 atoms or more.

The revolutionary advance comes from the hand of a team headed by the University of Ohio (United States), led by Saw Wai Hla, who has described to Nature how they have obtained the first sign of a single atom. X-rays, a technology that came to us in 1895, has been the key to this discovery. From medical examinations to security controls, going through the Curiosity rover on Mars -to determine the materials of the rocks-, this technology is part of our daily life, and today it has become somewhat historic.

X-rays, the key to the detection of materials

An important use in science is to identify the type of materials in a sample. Over the years and technological advances, such as synchrotron X-ray sources, the amount of material needed for detection has been considerably reduced. To date, the smallest quantity that could be x-rayed from a sample was an attogram, (about 10,000 atoms or more). for the X-ray signal produced by an atom is extremely weak.

“Atoms can be routinely viewed with scanning probe microscopes, but without X-rays you can’t tell what they’re made of.”. We can now exactly detect the type of a particular atom, atom by atom, and simultaneously measure its chemical state.“Hla explained in a statement from Ohio University.

For the demonstration, the team chose one iron and one terbium atom and used a technique known as scanning synchrotron X-ray tunneling microscopy, or SX-STM.

“The technique used and the concept demonstrated in this study break new ground in X-ray science and nanoscale studies,” said Tolulope Michael Ajayi, one of the study’s signatories.

The use of X-rays to detect and characterize individual atoms “could revolutionize research” and give rise to new technologies in areas such as quantum information and trace element detection in environmental and medical research, he added.

Source: Vozpópuli by

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