Electron filmed for the first time

The traditional model of an atom | Image: Live Images You probably learned all about atoms when you were a kid, and how they are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons – I certainly did. We were all taught how electrons were really tiny – in fact modern science predicts that they are so small it is totally impossible to measure their size, even if we had super-futuristic technology.

And until now, many people thought that it would also be impossible to take a photograph of an electron, because they are so inconceivably small.

But now, scientists in Sweden have done just that, creating a video of a single electron riding along a light wave. But wait a minute… if electrons are so small, how could you ever figure out how to video them?

The new photograph of an electron | Image: MSNBCThe magic method involved using repeated flashes of light, each lasting 1 ‘attosecond‘ What’s an attosecond? Basically, it’s a measure of time so short that you could fit 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 attoseconds into a single second. In fact, one of the scientists on the team put it this way: an attosecond compared to a second is like a second compared to the entire lifetime of out universe. Wow – that’s a long time.

It was necessary to use such short pulses of light because, in simple terms, they had to try and image the electron before it moved away from where the camera was pointed at.

I think this new video could have monumental impacts for science – if we can film an electron, then what other subatomic particles can we film? I think we can expect some revolutionary new discoveries from projects like this one. We’re living in very exciting times for scientific research!

Check out the video – the reason it is not a perfect sphere is because of the different energy levels of the electron. This video has been slowed down immensely – it would last a fraction of a second in real life.

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7 Responses

  1. That is absolutely amazing, Richard. Even coming up with something so abstract as an attosecond and timing the filming to such a precise degree is an incredible achievement. Now, if they could only do that with train schedules…

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  3. Something is wrong with this story. An electron is smaller than the shortest wavelength of light that we can produce. Using the method you described would be like trying to catch a single bb in a cyclone fence. Even assuming you could solve that problem, you have to take into account the particle/wave duality of light…light isn’t just waves of nothing; it’s made up of particles. So for each of these flashes of light, however “short” they claim they are, we must have some number of photons. In order for the photons to bouce back to the source, thus “detecting” the electron, they have to strike the electron after which Newtonian physics takes over and tells us the electron won’t be appearing in the next flash of light: it’ll be careening off in some other direction at the speed of light. This being the case, you’d have to be faster than light to take its picture.

    Finally, I’m not so sure that representations of time expressed in parts of a second have any real meaning to something traveling as fast as an electron presumably does. I noticed you also believe in human-caused climate change. Whatever you do, don’t think for yourself/

  4. I can see your point – that’s what I thought when I first heard about this story. However, the more you read about on the internet the more it makes sense – try this site for a bit more detail:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080222095358.htm

    When you daid that the electron would fly off at the speed of light when a photon hit it, I think you are wrong. An electron has mass, so when the momentum of the photon is transferred to the electron, it will travel slower than the speed of light because of its mass.

    It would indeed travel extremely quickly, but because the pulses of light are so short, this can be accounted for.

    You sem to express a lot of doubt about this story – it was published in a respected scientific journal, noit made up by me. 🙂 You can read the full paper here:

    http://www.atto.fysik.lth.se/

    Finally, I’m right about human-indiced global warming. 90% of scientists are in agreement with my view, so I think it’s safe to say that humans are causing climate change.

    Thanks for your comment – it’s always interesting to hear other people’s views.

  5. My reading of the actual journal article is that they didn’t take a picture of an electron. They took a picture of a series of ionization events.

    A lot of dubious translation occured from the original article published in Physical Review Letters to the MSNBC report. Here’s the actual abstract. It talks about “A SINGLE IONIZATION EVENT”, not a single electron. They are very very different:

    We demonstrate a quantum stroboscope based on a sequence of identical attosecond pulses that are used to release electrons into a strong infrared (IR) laser field exactly once per laser cycle. The resulting electron momentum distributions are recorded as a function of time delay between the IR laser and the attosecond pulse train using a velocity map imaging spectrometer. Because our train of attosecond pulses creates a train of identical electron wave packets, a single ionization event can be studied stroboscopically. This technique has enabled us to image the coherent electron scattering that takes place when the IR field is sufficiently strong to reverse the initial direction of the electron motion causing it to rescatter from its parent ion.

  6. How valid is Milo Wolff’s Space Resonance/Wave Structure of Matter Theory?…

    The recent “photograph of an electron” seems to support the concept of “standing matter waves” while the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle appears to be explainable on the basis of WSM, but Wolff stumbles in his account of how Entanglement occurs (w…

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