Using a state-of-the-art microscope and new methods in image processing, a multi-institutional team of researchers has devised an inventive way to measure the positions of single atomic sites in materials more precisely than ever before.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, the team demonstrated the ability to locate atoms in high-resolution images of materials to better than one picometer, or one-hundredth of a nanometer. That is more than five times better than previous imaging methods.
The new technique enables researchers to pinpoint previously undetectable shifts of single atomic sites in a material. Now, they can measure shifts in the positions of atoms at surfaces, at interfaces between two different materials, or at defects in a material’s crystal structure. Insights into these atomic shifts could help pave the way for innovative new materials. “Now, with this new technique, we can say ‘this atom moved
a little closer to that atom—and we are talking about only these two atoms,’” says co-author Paul Voyles, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. “That gives us the ability to answer questions about the atomic origin of the function of entirely new classes of materials, like metal nano-particle catalysts, that were very hard to measure before.”
Read more about this advance: go.wisc.edu/elusive-atom