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A Snapshot of the Inside of an Atom

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the don't-forget-the-sepia-filter dept.

Science 40

sciencehabit writes "Physicists have, for the first time, been able to image the quantum workings of electrons in hydrogen atoms, an advance that could open the door to a deeper understanding of the quantum world (abstract). Building on a 1981 proposal by three Russian theorists and more recent work that brought that proposal into the realm of possibility, the team first fired two lasers at hydrogen atoms inside a chamber, kicking off electrons at speeds and directions that depended on their underlying wave functions. A strong electric field inside the chamber guided the electrons to positions on a planar detector that depended on their initial velocities rather than on their initial positions. So the distribution of electrons striking the detector matched the wave function the electrons had at the moment they left their hydrogen nuclei behind. There may be practical applications in the future—a commentary accompanying the paper suggests that the method could aid in the development of technologies such as molecular wires, atom-thick conductors that could help shrink electronic devices—but that their result concerns 'extremely fundamental' physics that might be just as valuable for developing quantum intuition in the next generation of physicists."

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Nuclei (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816851)

Don't you mean nucleolus?

MOD PARENT UP! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43817375)

Correct. This should be "nucleolus"

Re:MOD PARENT UP! (1, Insightful)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43817589)

I think you mean nukyueolus.

Re:MOD PARENT UP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43825483)

Apparently, you are the only one who spells it that way.

http://www.google.com/search?q=nukyueolus [google.com]

Re:MOD PARENT UP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43819133)

Indeed. Mod parent up- this is correct pluralization. I wonder why they didn't get it right in the first place ?

Re:MOD PARENT UP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43820047)

The nucleolus is a structure involved in RNA transcription inside biological cells. I am not aware of any use for the term 'nucleolus' in the context of subatomic physics.

Re:MOD PARENT UP! (1)

BrokenHalo (565198) | about a year ago | (#43820891)

The nucleolus is a structure involved in RNA transcription inside biological cells. I am not aware of any use for the term 'nucleolus' in the context of subatomic physics.

Indeed. Unfortunately, there's no moderation option for "WTF are you talking about, you fool".

More apropos of the actual topic, I would remind readers of the adage that if they imagine they understand quantum physics, they probably haven't been paying attention.

Re:MOD PARENT UP! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43824585)

Heh, I created that comment and then did a MPU reply to see how gullible the moderators are. This site reeks of digg.

Pics? (4, Funny)

DaveSlash (1597297) | about a year ago | (#43816857)

Pics or it didn't happen!

Re:Pics? (2, Funny)

DaveSlash (1597297) | about a year ago | (#43816867)

Ok nevermind. They were hard to find among all the ads.

Re:Pics? (3, Informative)

cruff (171569) | about a year ago | (#43816879)

Here is the article [aps.org] at physics.aps.org with a link to the (free) PDF about the experiment.

Re:Pics? (4, Informative)

cruff (171569) | about a year ago | (#43816891)

Doh, here is the link to the PDF [aps.org] itself.

Re:Pics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43817509)

Nifty! So, which of those red things is the Higgs, or is it that yellow blob?

Re:Pics? (1)

Bomarc (306716) | about a year ago | (#43817143)

Pics or it didn't happen!

Link [aps.org] to the actual artical "Viewpoint: A New Look at the Hydrogen Wave Function" (with pics!) or PDF [aps.org] available.

Re:Pics? (1)

EnsilZah (575600) | about a year ago | (#43819983)

So much truer on the quantum level.

Pics (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816859)

...or it didn't happen!

Re:Pics (4, Insightful)

RandomFactor (22447) | about a year ago | (#43816923)

...or it might or might not have happened (or maybe both)

TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816887)

Talk about taking a tough shot.

NOT how I read that. It's been a tough week. Finals.

Gluons or GTFO (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43816903)

I can tell this is shopped, I work with the periodic table every day

Not good enough. (2)

Netdoctor (95217) | about a year ago | (#43816969)

No, as an engineer, I need to know both what direction the wire is in, and where it is at, at the same time, or game over.

Calculations (4, Informative)

OneAhead (1495535) | about a year ago | (#43817199)

Now this would have been a fundamental breakthrough if it would have been done many decades ago. These days, we have extremely high confidence in our theoretical/computational models of the wavefunction of atoms and molecules. "Just as valuable for developing quantum intuition in the next generation of physicists?" Naah, this stuff has been well-known since before most of us were born.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to belittle this accomplishment - it's all kinds of cool that they pulled off this experiment in the first place, and notwithstanding the huge body of other experimental evidence, it's a beautiful direct confirmation of longstanding quantum mechanics theory. And as mentioned in TFA, provided they can scale this up to larger and less well-understood systems than the hydrogen atom, it might make it possible to obtain unique data on nontrivial materials like molecular wires. The only problem I have is that the Science editor is overselling it a bit; at the end of the day, it's not going to change our quantum mechanical worldview the slightest.

Re:Calculations (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about a year ago | (#43817251)

Well it's nice to have just a bit more backup. Break out the quote about science being mostly boring except on occasion when something new is discovered. Which is not always a goal but sometimes a side affect.

Re:Calculations (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43818345)

The quantum intuition this enables will be for more than just future scientists. This will make quantum waveforms far less abtract to the "average" person. I think this is great news and great work.

Re:Calculations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43819509)

Yep, my 1970's college physics text (Berkeley physics) had detailed diagrams of the electron and proton wave functions. Nothing new here.

Re:Calculations (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43820051)

This is cool in the same way that recent high speed video where you could 'see' a radius of light moving was cool. But you're right, this isn't new physics or anything.

Reality Check (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43821059)

Theoretical mathematics is a useful tool for exploring the unknown. But anyone, anyone who has ever been involved in any engineering or practical application projects painfully knows the limitations of theory. The above poster makes it sound like experimental science is dead and all things can be done en silico. This is absolutely not the case. At best, theory can give us ideas about the trends of things. It seldom, if ever, gives the absolute correct physical answer. For example, in the case of quantum mechanics, we can solve the one electron hydrogen system close to exactly. After that, approximations are used with various degree of success.

Therefore, such research as discussed in the article is very important because it gives us an amazing tool to check the more sophisticated calculations against reality. If modern physics is teaching us anything, the universe is stranger than we think, and nothing like the theorists say it is.

**********
Disclaimer: While a scientist, I am in now way associated with research discussed or the group doing it. I have no "skin in the game" per say. I just hate misinformation in scientific discussion.

Re:Reality Check (1)

OneAhead (1495535) | about a year ago | (#43845821)

What misinformation? Can you be a bit more specific about what part of my post can be considered misinformation, mister Anonymous Coward who claims to be also a scientist but doesn't appear to be a specialist in the field? For your reference, they did study only the hydrogen atom for which an exact solution has been available for a long while, and I did mention in my post that things could get interesting if they succeed to scale this up. Which falisifies your shameful strawman attack that has me claiming that "experimental science is dead and all things can be done en [sic] silico".

Also, FYI, mister mistery scientist, the field of physics has long conquered and surpassed the domain of chemistry; experiment-driven advancements in physics have moved to the ultra-small and ultra-high-energy stuff. Quantum Mechanics tells us with high certainty which calculations we need to perform to represent ordinary matter at ordinary conditions within any chosen margin of error from experiment. It's just that we don't have the computer power to do this, limiting close-to-exact calculations to tiny molecules at 0K in vacuum. Anything more ambitious is based on very approximate models that need to be verified by experiment. Note, again, that I'm saying exactly the opposite of "experimental science is dead".

Re:Calculations (1)

dinfinity (2300094) | about a year ago | (#43821115)

I think the value of practical experiments is that you can mess with them and see what happens.

My understanding of QM and the practical setup of the experiment is too limited to be able to come up with a way to try and tease out some unexpected results, but I hope the people working on this experiment can.

Re:Calculations (1)

Redeye Carci (2932323) | about a year ago | (#43821755)

If they can do this for helium it would be very, very interesting if electron correlation effects could be seen. I am not sure if their current resolution would be able to show such minute effects.

Re:Calculations (1)

OneAhead (1495535) | about a year ago | (#43845683)

Electron correlation effects are no mystery. "Electron correlation" is simply an umbrella term for "everything the Hartree-Fock approximation doesn't capture". Nature doesn't give a damn. As for quantum chemists, they have plenty of other tools at their disposal...

4x4mm??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43817249)

Can someone please explain the dimensions on the picture. Shouldn't the distance from the nucleus to the electrons measure in nanometers or picometers, not millimeters?

I think they're using a cloud of hydrogen atoms, but even then, the distance from the center of the cloud to the electrons should be infinitesimally small, not millimeters.

Re:4x4mm??? (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#43817571)

They mention a tiny screen, I think that's what received the electrons. The image drawn could be as big as they want.

Theoretical computations for quantilogical systems (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43817271)

I've allways been close to, or there of, patrick heydens work, etc. being a fan of science fiction and all. I managed to get a pretty theoretical aspect to Everett and his may-worlds approach. Also have a good picture as an engineer to. 2 soviet scientists disecting an atom with lasers. I studied about lasers and holagrams. I believe George Strobe was one who defined the modern day laser. an atom (basically) consist of a proton, neutron, & electrons. If we could further our quantum logic, by splitting an atom and fussing its electrons. Live and learn. -Jason Hall

Theoretical computations for quantilogical systems (-1)

Jason Hall (2931749) | about a year ago | (#43817283)

I've allways been close to, or there of, patrick heydens work, etc. being a fan of science fiction and all. I managed to get a pretty theoretical aspect to Everett and his may-worlds approach. Also have a good picture as an engineer to. 2 soviet scientists disecting an atom with lasers. I studied about lasers and holagrams. I believe George Strobe was one who defined the modern day laser. an atom (basically) consist of a proton, neutron, & electrons. If we could further our quantum logic, by splitting an atom and fussing its electrons. Live and learn. -Jason Hall

Re:Theoretical computations for quantilogical syst (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43818653)

Faggot.

So if matter is a wave (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43819119)

So if matter is really an expression of a wave, let suppose that its a wave in some more fundamental *stuff* we can't currently envisage. So the *stuff* is rippling and where that ripple is large we perceive it to be a particle.

http://i.imgur.com/AUXb2N9.gif

In other words, we can only see the big circles in that picture, we can't perceive the underlying stuff, and these particles do all manner of weird things, jump around, have a certain probability of being found in unexpected places, appear to travel faster than light.

So now, if everything in the universe is this stuff, even empty space is this stuff, and the waves in this stuff are what we can measure as particles, then every chemical reaction, every effect of physics, gravity, magnetism, everything, even energy changes in caesium-133 is a function, not of time, but of of waves of 'stuff'. So we think we can measure (t) and perceive the passage of (t) and that's rubbish, we perceive a function of stuff f(stuff).

And the distortion and folding of space time isn't the folding of space time, it's the distortion and folding of just stuff.

Time is matter and matter is time (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43819259)

Watch the appearance and disappearance of the big circles in this picture:
http://i.imgur.com/AUXb2N9.gif

If you could only detect the big circles as matter, then matter is created and destroyed, seemingly randomly jumping around according to some probability function. This is what you see in Quantum Physics models.

Not only that, watch the energy flow, sometimes there are 5 big circles, sometimes 1, matter (big circles) is being 'converted' from energy (the flow) to matter and matter to energy all the time. In aggregate there is the same amount of 'matter' and constants flow, but at the quantum level, it converts from one form to another all the time (sometimes matter sometimes energy). Yet the big circles, the matter, aren't there. They're a function of our model of the universe. We defined matter and so the wave function either fits that model or fits energy, and appears to switch between the two states, but in fact it simply fits out model of matter (is a big circle) or fits our model of energy (the flow) but never actually changes its nature at all. It's ALWAYS the flow.

Caesium-133 transitions between two energy states at 9192631770 cycles per second. Why? It's just matter, matter is just some wave function of the flow of stuff. If the stuff was more concentrated, the matter-energy transitions would be faster. Circles would be more frequent and overlap more. The energy transitions would be 'faster'.

It isn't that there's matter, and the concentration of matter distorts space and time, as per General Relativity.

It's that matter is a function of the milling around of the stuff of the universe, and it isn't that time is a function of the milling around of the universe.

Matter is not the cause of the distortion of space time, its a SYMPTOM of the distortion, a wave function in the stuff, the more distorted the universe-stuff is, the more the 'big circles appear' and the more matter there is.

Likewise the transitions from energy to matter, the more distorted and concentrated the stuff is, the more of them there are, the faster the energy transitions, the faster time appears to be. Time is a SYMPTOM of the concentration of stuff, a perceive effect of it.

Re:Time is matter and matter is time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43819291)

How can it be faster if there is no time?

Data available in 3D (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43819243)

Free software used to project IBM's atomic force microscopy images now has a data set for these images of the electron wave functions. Here is the link:

http://deepthought.newsvine.com/_news/2013/05/24/18476239-a-snapshot-of-the-inside-of-an-atom-in-3d#threadId3731960-lastNewId76478192

tldr: Pretty 3D pics of data.

I thought it was about ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43819577)

... the Intel processor Atom

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