Researchers from Ohio State University have captured the first-ever images of atoms moving within a molecule. The technique used to capture used the energy in the molecule’s own electron to act as something similar to a camera’s flash in order to illuminate the movements, while a laser that shot 50 femtosecond pulses were used to actually take the pictures. A femtosecond is one quadrillionth of a second, so, you know, science.
The researchers used oxygen and nitrogen molecules for the experiment, due to how widely understood they are. In order to make the electron light up the molecule, the laser shot the electron out of said molecule, then crashes back into it, causing the illumination required to snap the shot. The period between the electron being knocked out of the molecule and crashing back into it is short enough to where the researchers were able to capture the goings-on inside the molecule, which include the movements of the atoms. This allowed the researchers to make something of a frame-by-frame film of the atomic motion.
The goal of the experiment wasn’t just to capture some never-before-seen pictures, but can lead researchers to being able to precisely control chemical reactions at the atomic level, which will hopefully lead to all kinds of mad science.
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