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Seeing atoms and molecules

  1. Oct 3, 2013 #1
    Hi guys,

    I hope you don't mind me posting here, I am doing some research into atoms, molecules and microscopes. I have no knowledge of physics, the quantum world or microscopy so if my questions seem silly, please look past that and help me. Thank you

    I have two questions. Is there a way to see atoms, molecules and other nanoscale objects other than through high powered microscopes?

    And another question is, what are your thoughts on the FEI company microscopes? Have you used them? Would you recommend them?

    Thanks in advance
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 3, 2013 #2


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    Define "see". Are you asking for the ability to view these things with our naked eyes, without the use of any other instruments? Or are you asking if there are OTHER instruments that can be used besides "high powered microscopes"?

  4. Oct 3, 2013 #3


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    You cannot see them with a light microscope. Images of molecules have been taken using atomic force microscopy.

    Check these out: http://phys.org/news/2012-09-world-atomic-microscope-chemical-bonds.html

    This is cutting edge stuff, not something you are likely to reproduce in a garage. Atoms are hard to see.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2013
  5. Oct 3, 2013 #4


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    You can, however, see things that are only one atomic layer thick in an optical microscope.
    This becomes fairly obvious if you look at graphene, there is actually optical contrast between single and bilayer graphere, even though the difference in thickness is much less than the wavelength of the light (and you can also see the contrast between the single layer graphene and the substrate).
    It is a nice -and very useful- optical effect.
    (I should point out that the effect is much easier to see if you use a camera where you can adjust the contrast)
  6. Oct 4, 2013 #5

    Claude Bile

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    Interferometric microscopes can measure height contrasts down to 0.1 nm, however this can only be applied to atomic layers and not single atoms. The lateral resolution of interferometric microscopes is still the usual ~wavelength/2.

    That said, enormous progress has been made in the past decade using fluorescence to differentiate between atoms. Look up the work of Stefan Hell and techniques like STED, PALM, STORM etc.

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