Scientists achieve the first X-ray of a single atom in history

Physicists in the US have taken the world’s first X-ray signal of a single atom . They believe this groundbreaking achievement may revolutionize the way scientists detect materials.

X-raying a single atom is not as easy as one might think. In fact, it is an achievement that has just been achieved and that can revolutionize how scientists detect materials and give rise to new technologies in areas such as quantum information or medical research.

A team led by Ohio University (USA), led by Saw Wai Hla, describes in  Nature this advance and the technique used to achieve the first X-ray signal, or signature, of an individual atom .

science advances

Since its discovery in 1895, X-rays have been widely used, from medical examinations to airport security checks, and even the Curiosity rover on Mars is equipped with such a device to examine the composition of materials. of the rocks.

An important use in science is to identify the type of materials in a sample. Over the years and technological advances, such as synchrotron X-ray sources, the amount of material required for detection has been greatly reduced. To date, the smallest amount that can be x-rayed from a sample is in attograms , (about 10 thousand atoms or more) because the X-ray signal produced by an atom is extremely weak.

“Atoms can be routinely viewed with scanning probe microscopes, but without X-rays you can’t tell what they’re made of. Now we can detect exactly the type of a particular atom , atom by atom, and simultaneously measure its chemical state.” Hla explained in a statement from Ohio University.

For the demonstration, the team chose one iron and one terbium atom and used a technique known as scanning synchrotron X-ray tunneling microscopy, or SX-STM.

“The technique used and the concept demonstrated in this study break new ground in X-ray science and nanoscale studies,” said Tolulope Michael Ajayi, one of the study’s signatories.

The use of X-rays to detect and characterize individual atoms “could revolutionize research” and give rise to new technologies in areas such as quantum information and trace element detection in environmental and medical research, he added.