This is an image of the atoms in a praseodymium orthoscandate crystal, zoomed in 100 million times. It's the highest resolution image of atoms that humans have ever seen. Using an algorithm-powered technique called ptychography, the Cornell University researchers were able to achieve a resolution triple that of the latest generation of electron microscope. The only blurring you see in the image is caused by the atoms actually jiggling.
Ptychography works by scanning overlapping scattering patterns from a material sample and looking for changes in the overlapping region.
From the Cornell Chronicle:
The detector is slightly defocused, blurring the beam, in order to capture the widest range of data possible. This data is then reconstructed via complex algorithms, resulting in an ultraprecise image with picometer (one-trillionth of a meter) precision.
"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," [Cornell nanoscientist David] Muller said. "When we talk about temperature, what we're actually measuring is the average speed of how much the atoms are jiggling."
This latest form of electron ptychography will enable scientists to locate individual atoms in all three dimensions when they might be otherwise hidden using other imaging methods. Researchers will also be able to find impurity atoms in unusual configurations and image them and their vibrations, one at a time. This could be particularly helpful in imaging semiconductors, catalysts and quantum materials – including those used in quantum computing – as well as for analyzing atoms at the boundaries where materials are joined together.
The imaging method could also be applied to thick biological cells or tissues, or even the synapse connections in the brain – what Muller refers to as "connectomics on demand."
(via Scientific American)