David Nadlinger, a quantum physicist from the University of Oxford won this year’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s scientific photography competition. He captured the photograph of a strontium atom visible to the naked eye and you can see it as the tiny dot in the centre of the picture below:
“The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the minuscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality,” Nadlinger says. “A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.”
His photograph was named “Single Atom in an Ion Trap” and it shows the atom held between the fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. There is only a difference of 2 mm between the small needle tips. The atom absorbs and re-emits light very quickly when illuminated by a laser of the right blue-violet colour very quickly.
It is too quick to capture from a normal camera in a long exposure photograph. The picture captured by Nadlinger was taken through a window of the ultra-high vacuum chamber that houses the ion trap. These atomic ions could play a pivotal role in furthering the research in quantum physics.
They could one day be used as the building blocks for future quantum computers. However, we still have a long way to go before that.