I’ll be busy today, so talk among yourselves. In the meantime, here’s an animation created by moving carbon atoms around one by one with precise (and astounding) new technologies. As the BBC reports,
Researchers at IBM have created the world’s smallest movie by manipulating single atoms on a copper surface.
The stop-motion animation uses a few dozen carbon atoms, moved around with the tiny tip of what is called a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM).
It would take about 1,000 of the frames of the film laid side by side to span a single human hair.
The extraordinary feat of atomic precision has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records.
The phenomenon apparently depents on quantum tunnelling, one of those biazrre things that occur on the quantum level (like the nonexistence of “local hidden variables”), that are completely nonintuitive and even defy explanation to someone who doesn’t know the math. Absent quantum tunnelling, we’d not only have cool animations like these (yes, those are apparently real atoms you’re seeing), but practical things like the microscope that visualized these atoms (the “scanning tunnelling microscope”) and tunnel diodes, used in some electronic devices.
Anyway, have a look:
The new movie, titled A Boy and His Atom, instead uses the STM, an IBM invention which garnered the scientists behind it the 1986 Nobel prize in physics.
The device works by passing an electrically charged, phenomenally sharp metal needle across the surface of a sample. As the tip nears features on the surface, the charge can “jump the gap” in a quantum physics effect called tunnelling.
The 242 frames of the 90-second movie are essentially maps of this “tunnelling current” with a given arrangement of atoms. It depicts a boy playing with a “ball” made of a single atom, dancing, and jumping on a trampoline.
“The tip of the needle is both our eyes and our hands: it senses the atoms to make images of where the atoms are, and then it is moved closer to the atoms to tug them along the surface to new positions,” explained Andreas Heinrich, principal investigator at IBM Research in California, US.
“The atoms hold still at their new positions because they form chemical bonds to the copper atoms in the surface underneath, and that lets us take an image of the whole arrangement of atoms in each frame of the film.The movie studio for the world’s smallest film – under high vacuum and held incredibly cold
“Between frames we carefully move around the atoms to their new positions, and take another image,” he told BBC News.
The effort, detailed in a number of YouTube videos, took four scientists two weeks of 18-hour days to pull off.