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Science

A Snapshot of the Inside of an Atom 40

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-forget-the-sepia-filter dept.
sciencehabit writes "Physicists have, for the first time, been able to image the quantum workings of electrons in hydrogen atoms, an advance that could open the door to a deeper understanding of the quantum world (abstract). Building on a 1981 proposal by three Russian theorists and more recent work that brought that proposal into the realm of possibility, the team first fired two lasers at hydrogen atoms inside a chamber, kicking off electrons at speeds and directions that depended on their underlying wave functions. A strong electric field inside the chamber guided the electrons to positions on a planar detector that depended on their initial velocities rather than on their initial positions. So the distribution of electrons striking the detector matched the wave function the electrons had at the moment they left their hydrogen nuclei behind. There may be practical applications in the future—a commentary accompanying the paper suggests that the method could aid in the development of technologies such as molecular wires, atom-thick conductors that could help shrink electronic devices—but that their result concerns 'extremely fundamental' physics that might be just as valuable for developing quantum intuition in the next generation of physicists."
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A Snapshot of the Inside of an Atom

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Don't you mean nucleolus?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Correct. This should be "nucleolus"

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        I think you mean nukyueolus.

  • Pics? (Score:4, Funny)

    by DaveSlash (1597297) on Friday May 24, 2013 @04:30PM (#43816857)
    Pics or it didn't happen!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I can tell this is shopped, I work with the periodic table every day

  • No, as an engineer, I need to know both what direction the wire is in, and where it is at, at the same time, or game over.

  • Calculations (Score:5, Informative)

    by OneAhead (1495535) on Friday May 24, 2013 @05:18PM (#43817199)
    Now this would have been a fundamental breakthrough if it would have been done many decades ago. These days, we have extremely high confidence in our theoretical/computational models of the wavefunction of atoms and molecules. "Just as valuable for developing quantum intuition in the next generation of physicists?" Naah, this stuff has been well-known since before most of us were born.
    Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to belittle this accomplishment - it's all kinds of cool that they pulled off this experiment in the first place, and notwithstanding the huge body of other experimental evidence, it's a beautiful direct confirmation of longstanding quantum mechanics theory. And as mentioned in TFA, provided they can scale this up to larger and less well-understood systems than the hydrogen atom, it might make it possible to obtain unique data on nontrivial materials like molecular wires. The only problem I have is that the Science editor is overselling it a bit; at the end of the day, it's not going to change our quantum mechanical worldview the slightest.
    • Well it's nice to have just a bit more backup. Break out the quote about science being mostly boring except on occasion when something new is discovered. Which is not always a goal but sometimes a side affect.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Theoretical mathematics is a useful tool for exploring the unknown. But anyone, anyone who has ever been involved in any engineering or practical application projects painfully knows the limitations of theory. The above poster makes it sound like experimental science is dead and all things can be done en silico. This is absolutely not the case. At best, theory can give us ideas about the trends of things. It seldom, if ever, gives the absolute correct physical answer. For example, in the case of quantum mec

      • by OneAhead (1495535)
        What misinformation? Can you be a bit more specific about what part of my post can be considered misinformation, mister Anonymous Coward who claims to be also a scientist but doesn't appear to be a specialist in the field? For your reference, they did study only the hydrogen atom for which an exact solution has been available for a long while, and I did mention in my post that things could get interesting if they succeed to scale this up. Which falisifies your shameful strawman attack that has me claiming t
    • I think the value of practical experiments is that you can mess with them and see what happens.

      My understanding of QM and the practical setup of the experiment is too limited to be able to come up with a way to try and tease out some unexpected results, but I hope the people working on this experiment can.

    • If they can do this for helium it would be very, very interesting if electron correlation effects could be seen. I am not sure if their current resolution would be able to show such minute effects.
      • by OneAhead (1495535)
        Electron correlation effects are no mystery. "Electron correlation" is simply an umbrella term for "everything the Hartree-Fock approximation doesn't capture". Nature doesn't give a damn. As for quantum chemists, they have plenty of other tools at their disposal...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    So if matter is really an expression of a wave, let suppose that its a wave in some more fundamental *stuff* we can't currently envisage. So the *stuff* is rippling and where that ripple is large we perceive it to be a particle.

    http://i.imgur.com/AUXb2N9.gif

    In other words, we can only see the big circles in that picture, we can't perceive the underlying stuff, and these particles do all manner of weird things, jump around, have a certain probability of being found in unexpected places, appear to travel fas

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Watch the appearance and disappearance of the big circles in this picture:
      http://i.imgur.com/AUXb2N9.gif

      If you could only detect the big circles as matter, then matter is created and destroyed, seemingly randomly jumping around according to some probability function. This is what you see in Quantum Physics models.

      Not only that, watch the energy flow, sometimes there are 5 big circles, sometimes 1, matter (big circles) is being 'converted' from energy (the flow) to matter and matter to energy all the time. I

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