An Atom Undressed

There's no privacy anymore. Not even for an atom now that scientists have a quantum camera:

AN ATOM'S electrons are an ever-shifting quantum melee, but it turns out you can still take their photograph as if they were standing still. A quantum-style microscope has imaged the hydrogen atom's wave function, the equation that determines its electrons' positions – and in turn the atom's properties. [...]

how on earth do you make an image of such an object? Measuring the position of a single electron "collapses" the wave function, forcing it to pick a particular position, but that alone is not representative of its normal, quantum presence in the atom. "Wave functions are difficult to measure. They're exquisite quantum objects that change their appearance upon observation," says Aneta Stodolna of the FOM Institute AMOLF in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Her team decided to make a picture using a technique dreamed up 30 years ago that can be thought of as a quantum microscope. Rather than taking an image of a single atom, they sampled a bunch of atoms. This removes the quantum nature of each individual atom's electron, forcing it to choose a particular location from those it is allowed to reside in. Do it with enough atoms and the number choosing each spot will reflect the quantum probabilities laid out by the wave function.

Lisa Grossman of New Scientist explains: Link


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