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The Quantum Breakthrough: First-Ever X-Ray of a Single Atom Reveals the Secrets of the Smallest

Scientists used X-rays to study the properties of an individual atom, making a breakthrough in atom research. 

Physicist Tolulope Ajayi led the team in demonstrating how X-rays can examine the elemental and chemical state of a single atom.

X-rays have proven useful for atomic-scale material examination due to their wavelength distribution, similar in size to an atom.
Image Courtesy of ScienceAlert

X-rays have proven useful for atomic-scale material examination due to their wavelength distribution, similar in size to an atom.

Researchers used synchrotron X-rays and scanning tunnelling microscopy to explore tiny details. Scanning tunnelling microscopy involves using a sharp-tipped probe to visualize atoms through quantum tunnelling, while synchrotron X-rays help create a technique called synchrotron X-ray scanning tunnelling microscopy (SX-STM).

Researchers analyzed a single iron atom by creating assemblies of iron and terbium ions with surrounding atoms. By analyzing the absorption spectra, they determined the chemical states of the atoms.

A particularly intriguing finding was that the X-ray signal could only be detected when the probe tip was precisely positioned directly above the iron atom within its supramolecular structure and at an extremely close distance. 

This confirms detection in the tunnelling regime, which has implications for the study of quantum mechanics.

The researchers believe that their work establishes a connection between synchrotron X-rays and quantum tunnelling, paving the way for future X-ray experiments that simultaneously characterize the elemental and chemical properties of materials at the single-atom level.

This advancement in the study of atoms using X-rays is highly significant and holds the potential for further advancements in our understanding of matter at its most fundamental level.

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