A Cornell University team led by Engineering Professor David Muller has surpassed its own previous record from 2018, presenting the sharpest image of an atom .
With an Electron Microscope Pixel Array Detector (EMPAD) coupled with sophisticated 3D reconstruction algorithms, a regime has been reached that is effectively going to be a maximum limit for resolution.
The ultra-precise image with a picometer precision (one billionth of a meter) has been achieved with a detector being slightly out of focus, blurring the beam, to capture the widest variety of data possible. This data is then reconstructed through complex algorithms. As Muller explains:
With these new algorithms, we can now correct all the blurring in our microscope to the point that the biggest blur factor we have left is the fact that the atoms themselves wobble, because that’s what happens to atoms at a finite temperature. When we talk about temperature, what we are actually measuring is the average speed of how much the atoms are moving.
This could be particularly useful for imaging semiconductors, catalysts, and quantum materials, including those used in quantum computing.
The researchers could possibly break their record again by using a material that consists of heavier atoms, which wobble less, or by cooling the sample, but the improvement would no longer be particularly significant .