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Photographer Captures Image of a Single Atom Visible with the Naked Eye

Photographer Captures Image of a Single Atom Visible with the Naked Eye

Photographer David Nadlinger won first place in an Engineering and Physical Sciences Photography Competition for a picture of a single atom visible with the naked eye.

If High School science classes taught us anything, it’s that atoms, the building blocks of all matter, exist on a scale that makes them invisible to the naked eye and difficult to see even with sophisticated equipment. For a kid that is just learning, it can be tough to appreciate that something so important is almost invisible. The award-winning entry in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) photography competition, however, may change all of that.

For his entry, photographer David Nadlinger entered the photo (above) titled “Single Atom In An Ion Tap,” which shows a single strontium atom visible to the naked eye. To capture this incredible image, Nadlinger secured a vacuum chamber in an Oxford University Lab. He then took an ordinary (professional grade) digital camera and managed to capture the atom using a long exposure shot.

The strontium atom is suspended between two metal electrodes, positioned two millimeters apart. A blue-violet colored laster was then used to highlight the atom itself.

“The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the minuscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality,” said Nadlinger. “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.”

His image beat out over 100 other images entered in the 2018 EPSRC competition. And given the significance of the image, don’t be surprised to see it appear in countless textbooks and scientific stories.

Check it out above.