Remarkable Photo of a Single Atom Wins Science Photography Contest
Ever wonder what an atom looks like? These building blocks of ordinary matter are a million times smaller than a strand of hair, making them impossible to see, even under a microscope. That is, until now. David Nadlinger, a Ph.D. student in University of Oxford Department of Physics, just won the top prize at the science photography competition organized by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for his groundbreaking image of an atom.
Titled Single Atom in an Ion Trap, Nadlinger’s photograph shows a single positively-charged strontium atom suspended in an electric field between two metal electrodes. For scale, the two needle tips it dances in between are just two millimeters apart. A close-up crop of the image lets us see this small dot of light, and is an incredibly unique way to see this tiny particle.
Just how was Nadlinger able to photograph the atom? What we’re looking at is actually the particle emitting light. The atom was first illuminated using a laser of a specific red-violet color. It absorbs and then emits this light, making it possible to capture with an ordinary camera using a long exposure. The photograph we’re looking at was taken through the ultra-high vacuum chamber that houses the ion trap.
“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,” Nadlinger shares. His image has allowed him to share his daily research with the world, getting the public excited about physics in a new and unique manner.
The winning image was selected from over 100 photographs that were submitted by researchers who received EPSRC funding. It’s the fifth year of the contest, with a wide variety of images that show the diversity of scientific research. “Every year we are stunned by the quality and creativity of the entries into our competition and this year has been no exception,” Professor Tom Rodden, Deputy Chief Executive of EPSRC said of judging the contest.“They show that our researchers want to tell the world about the beauty of science and engineering.”
Here are some other winning images from the EPSRC science photography contest.