See a single atom in this magnificent photograph

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I call bullshit. You can take pictures of atoms by bouncing electrons off them, but not with visible light. A strontium atom is about a thousand times smaller than the wavelengths of visible light. So no, whatever this is, it’s not a photo of a single atom.

From skimming the article, it seems to me that they are saying this is a picture of light emitting from a single atom, so it is a picture of said atom in the same sense that a picture of the sun is a picture of the sun?


“When illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet colour the atom absorbs and re-emits light particles sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long exposure photograph.”

So, I take it this is not a single snap. This is that strontium atom sucking up light and emitting it repeatedly, with the camera shutter open. So we see a compounding effect of many such emittances. Thus, a magnification because the light is not hitting the camera in exactly the same place twice.


This is as fake as my ass.

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shoop; it’s actually a pixel trapped in an ion stream. you can tell from the, um, pixel


My goodness (if I’ve got any), however do you poop?


So no, whatever this is, it’s not a photo of a single atom.

Given the article is on the EPSRC website (UK version of the NSF), and given that the photographer is a DPhil student at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, I think it’s a safe bet to assume it is what they say that it is, and is not #fakenews.

so it is a picture of said atom in the same sense that a picture of the sun is a picture of the sun


The resolution of that photo is about 30 pixels to the millimeter. The size of a strontiium atom is 255 picometers. That would be about a millionth of a pixel at that resolution. So by your analogy, this is like a picture of the sun that makes it look a thousand times bigger than the entire solar system.

It’s like taking a picture of a forest fire and claiming it’s a picture of the match that started it.


I think it’s just a little something smudged on the lens. Here - let me get that for ya.


Well, I do see your point, but the point I was trying to make is that we talk quite casually about pictures of the sun and other stars, when really we are making pictures of the light pouring out towards the viewer as compounded and lensed by atmospheric, gravitic, and magnetic effects. When you take a picture of something that’s strongly emitting light, by necessity what you are actually taking is a picture of the light emitted.


It’s never a safe bet to assume that a news report of a press release from either a University or a funding agency is accurate. In fact quite the opposite: the communications staff who write the press releases almost never get the details right, especially when they sense a sensationalist angle. I’m willing to bet that the professor who supervises this lab is somewhat bemused right now.


So, the subject is only visible because of the lighting setup they used. That’s completely normal, in photography. This is a photograph of an atom.

Sure, the image is distorted. But they got good composition!


This isn’t the first photo of a single atom, but it may be the first of one suspended in a vacuum. The scanning electron microscope ‘photo’ of a silicon atom in a field of graphene, shown below, dates from 5 years ago.


You do have a good point on scale. My interpretation is that it’s like taking a picture of a distant star. All we see is 1. a little dot of light that 2. has travelled millions of years to get to my camera. So it isn’t really a picture of a star, but a representation of where that star was millions of years ago, far, far away. Same here - it’s a picture of the light that happened to be emitted over a long exposure, like a faint flashlight flashing a light at you a hundred million times, you kind of get a vague blur of what’s making all that light.

You’re right this is not a picture “OF” a strontium atom. It’s something else.



Is this picture a fake?

Clearly the light is many times bigger than the physical flash it came from.

The point is that a picture of an object is not the reality of an object. It’s just a picture.


A single atom? That’s nothing lad! I have a picture that show billions and billions of them!



I had my ass blown off in a high school chemical experiment. Life just hasn’t been the same since.


You’re not grasping the scaling issue here. We’re not talking many times bigger. We’re talking a million times bigger. If that lens flare was the size of the New Jersey, you’d have a point.