Scientists were able to photograph, for the first time, the inside of a hydrogen atom. The experiment went beyond what quantum physics specialists believed was possible and could help researchers develop ultra-fast electronic components in the future. Dutch researchers used a laser and a microscope to look inside the atom, writes descopera.ro. Such images have never been captured before because, in all previous experiments of this type, the processes involved had destroyed the particles that scientists were trying to photograph.
Scientists have used a special lens that magnifies the image up to 20,000 aori, creating a so-called "quantum microscope." Quantum theory describes the behavior of a particle by using the so-called wave function – a mathematical way of describing how particles behave in space and time.
Measuring a wave function is very difficult because they are fragile; most attempts to directly observe wave functions destroy them, in a process called collapse. So the experimental measurement of the properties of a wave function requires rebuilding it from different measurements – all destructive – made on different atoms or molecules, brought into identical states before being measured.
Physicists from the Dutch Foundation for Fundamental Research on Matter, in Amsterdam, however, managed a non-destructive approach to this problem by publishing their results in Physical Review Letters. The researchers bombarded, in an enclosure, hydrogen atoms with two laser beams, thus energizing the electrons and causing them to move in directions and with speeds that depended on their wave functions. A powerful electric field applied inside the enclosure altered the trajectories of the electrons in a way that depended on their initial velocities. The behavior of electrons was measured using a detector; their distribution when they reached the detector corresponded to the wave functions that the electrons had had when they left the electronic shell of the hydrogen atom. The device represented the distribution of electrons on a phosphorescent screen in the form of light and dark rings, which the researchers photographed using a high-resolution digital camera.
The development of this technique could make some quantum properties – difficult to study because of the very small scale at which everything happens – more easily researchable and could stimulate the development of new technologies at the atomic and molecular scale.
Hydrogen was chosen because of its simple structure; It is not yet known whether the method can also be applied to particles with a more complex structure.