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18 Feb 2018 8:20
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  •   Home > News > International

    Oxford student uses ordinary camera to capture atom in prize-winning photograph

    A picture of what appears to be just a "small, pale blue dot" between two needle tips about 2 millimetres apart sees a student win a national science photography competition in the UK.


    A British student has used an ordinary camera and tripod to capture a prizewinning photograph of a single atom.

    The long exposure photograph was taken by University of Oxford student David Nadlinger through a window of a ultra-high vacuum chamber.

    Apart from using a lens accessory that increases the focal length of an existing lens, much of the camera technology Mr Nadlinger used was simplistic.

    But the scientific process behind capturing the atom in the photo was much more complex.

    The single positively-charged strontium atom, held near motionless by electric fields, was illuminated by a laser of a blue-violet colour which caused the atom to absorb and re-emit light quickly enough for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph.

    Mr Nadlinger was able to zoom in close enough to capture the atom, which was held between two needle tips about 2 millimetres apart.

    The resulting image named Single Atom in an Ion Trap came first in the Equipment and Facilities category of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's national science photography competition.

    "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 miniscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality," Mr Nadlinger said.

    "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."

    You might have the right camera rig, but it might not be so simple to snap your own atom selfie just yet.

    © 2018 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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