Researchers at Cornell University has made new advancements in imaging technology that allowed them to see atoms at record resolution: down to the picometer (one-trillionth of a meter). The resolution is so precise that the blurring they see is actually the thermal jiggling of the atoms themselves.
The imaging technique, called ptychography, works by scanning overlapping scattering patterns from a material sample and looking for changes in the overlapping region. Using a 3D reconstruction algorithm, researchers are able to compute the shape of the object that caused that pattern.
With these new algorithms, we’re now able to correct for all the blurring of our microscope to the point that the largest blurring factor we have left is the fact that the atoms themselves are wobbling, because that’s what happens to atoms at finite temperature,” professor David Muller said. “When we talk about temperature, what we’re actually measuring is the average speed of how much the atoms are jiggling.”