Less Is More: Scientists Capture Stunning Photograph Of An Atom

Scientists Capture Stunning Photograph Of An Atom

I’ve always been jealous of Instagrammers, as I see on a daily basis these beautiful shots of romantic cities, beautiful beaches and exquisite meals. I’ve read all the books and self-help articles but nothing improves my mastery of the art photography; it’s always blurred or out of focus or poorly framed.


So when a physicist from the University of Oxford recently photographed an atom perfectly, it made me question why I bother. Especially given that a human being is composed of about seven billion billion billion atoms, give or take.

David Nadlinger is the physicist from the University of Oxford who achieved this epic feat, capturing the above image using his IPhone; just kidding. He used specialist equipment owned by the university to generate the shot, which is in great detail when zoomed and enhanced.

If you’re not an expert at atom-spotting, you’ll probably not recognize that this is a positively charged strontium atom illuminated by a blue-violet laser. Photons are emitted from the atom when the laser is pointed at it, giving the physicist a prolonged period in which to capture the image. Nadlinger was able to capture it on a long-exposure snap, which was taken through the window of an ultra-high vacuum chamber, cooled to keep the atom still and ready for its close up.

“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. 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.”

The shot, which he called ‘Single Atom in an Ion Trap’ won the UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council photo competition.

The competition’s five categories were: Eureka & Discovery, Equipment & Facilities, People & Skills, Innovation, and Weird & Wonderful.  Other winning images were:

In a kitchen far far away…

The fluid instability patterns on top of a spherical soap bubble in a kitchen sink. The two sides of the image show some of the different physical phenomena studied in the research into how foams form and behave in lubricants and products like drinks.

Spiderman on George IV Bridge: EEG testing with an older volunteer on a busy Edinburgh street

A volunteer wearing an Electroencephalography (EEG) headset that records brain activity as he walks along George IV Bridge Edinburgh. Researchers used EEG to measure the neural responses of older people to different outdoor urban environments, from busy roads to a quiet park.

Microbubble for drug delivery

A micron-sized bubble coated with nano-sized liposomes containing a drug. Microbubbles are being explored for therapeutic applications and improve the delivery of drugs to diseased targets such as tumours.

Nature’s Nanosized Net for Capturing Colour

The micrometre-scale structures that cover a butterfly’s wing that trap the Sun’s rays and give rise to an array of dazzling colours.

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