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Q & A: picturing atoms

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Most recent answer: 10/22/2007
Q:
I know that atoms are a generaly accepted theory and I my self believe it is true . But I was wondering are there actually any REAL pictures of atoms, like from a very powerful microscope? thanks
- James
A:
So far as I know, even near-field optical microscopes are unable to form images of atoms which come cloes to being pictures in the ordinary sense. However, other types of microscopes regularly form images of atoms. For exampls, scanning tunneling microscopes (STMs) work by seeing how close they have to get to some surface to run a current through them at some voltage. When there's an atom sitting on the surface, it shows up as a lump in the STM position. Even the atoms in the surface show up as a regular pattern in the image. This technique is entirely routine.

There are many, many other ways in which the theory of atoms is confirmed. These range from detailed spectroscopy to the quantitative confirmation of predictions for the thermal properties of gases. The STM and other images are just the icing on a very big cake.

Mike W.

(published on 10/22/2007)

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