Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UCLA physicists determine 3-D positions of individual atoms for the first time

22.09.2015

Finding will help scientists better understand the structural properties of materials

Atoms are the building blocks of all matter on Earth, and the patterns in which they are arranged dictate how strong, conductive or flexible a material will be. Now, scientists at UCLA have used a powerful microscope to image the three-dimensional positions of individual atoms to a precision of 19 trillionths of a meter, which is several times smaller than a hydrogen atom.


The 3-D coordinates of thousands of individual atoms and a point defect in a material were determined with a precision of 19 trillionths of a meter, where the crystallinity of the material is not assumed. The figure shows the measured 3-D atomic positions of a tungsten tip, consisting of nine atomic layers, labeled with crimson (dark red), red, orange, yellow, green, cyan, blue, magenta and purple from layers one (top) to nine (bottom), respectively.

Credit: Mary Scott and Jianwei (John) Miao/UCLA

Their observations make it possible, for the first time, to infer the macroscopic properties of materials based on their structural arrangements of atoms, which will guide how scientists and engineers build aircraft components, for example. The research, led by Jianwei (John) Miao, a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy and a member of UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute, is published Sept. 21 in the online edition of the journal Nature Materials.

For more than 100 years, researchers have inferred how atoms are arranged in three-dimensional space using a technique called X-ray crystallography, which involves measuring how light waves scatter off of a crystal. However, X-ray crystallography only yields information about the average positions of many billions of atoms in the crystal, and not about individual atoms' precise coordinates.

"It's like taking an average of people on Earth," Miao said. "Most people have a head, two eyes, a nose and two ears. But an image of the average person will still look different from you and me."

Because X-ray crystallography doesn't reveal the structure of a material on a per-atom basis, the technique can't identify tiny imperfections in materials such as the absence of a single atom. These imperfections, known as point defects, can weaken materials, which can be dangerous when the materials are components of machines like jet engines.

"Point defects are very important to modern science and technology," Miao said.

Miao and his team used a technique known as scanning transmission electron microscopy, in which a beam of electrons smaller than the size of a hydrogen atom is scanned over a sample and measures how many electrons interact with the atoms at each scan position. The method reveals the atomic structure of materials because different arrangements of atoms cause electrons to interact in different ways.

However, scanning transmission electron microscopes only produce two-dimensional images. So creating a 3-D picture requires scientists to scan the sample once, tilt it by a few degrees and re-scan it -- repeating the process until the desired spatial resolution is achieved -- before combining the data from each scan using a computer algorithm. The downside of this technique is that the repeated electron beam radiation can progressively damage the sample.

Using a scanning transmission electron microscope at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Molecular Foundry, Miao and his colleagues analyzed a small piece of tungsten, an element used in incandescent light bulbs. As the sample was tilted 62 times, the researchers were able to slowly assemble a 3-D model of 3,769 atoms in the tip of the tungsten sample.

The experiment was time consuming because the researchers had to wait several minutes after each tilt for the setup to stabilize.

"Our measurements are so precise, and any vibrations -- like a person walking by -- can affect what we measure," said Peter Ercius, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an author of the paper.

The researchers compared the images from the first and last scans to verify that the tungsten had not been damaged by the radiation, thanks to the electron beam energy being kept below the radiation damage threshold of tungsten.

Miao and his team showed that the atoms in the tip of the tungsten sample were arranged in nine layers, the sixth of which contained a point defect. The researchers believe the defect was either a hole in an otherwise filled layer of atoms or one or more interloping atoms of a lighter element such as carbon.

Regardless of the nature of the point defect, the researchers' ability to detect its presence is significant, demonstrating for the first time that the coordinates of individual atoms and point defects can be recorded in three dimensions.

"We made a big breakthrough," Miao said.

Miao and his team plan to build on their results by studying how atoms are arranged in materials that possess magnetism or energy storage functions, which will help inform our understanding of the properties of these important materials at the most fundamental scale.

"I think this work will create a paradigm shift in how materials are characterized in the 21st century," he said. "Point defects strongly influence a material's properties and are discussed in many physics and materials science textbooks. Our results are the first experimental determination of a point defect inside a material in three dimensions."

###

The study's co-authors include Rui Xu, Chien-Chun Chen, Li Wu, Mary Scott, Matthias Bartels, Yongsoo Yang and Michael Sawaya, all of UCLA; as well as Colin Ophus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Wolfgang Theis of the University of Birmingham; Hadi Ramezani-Dakhel and Hendrik Heinz of the University of Akron; and Laurence Marks of Northwestern University.

This work was primarily supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Basic Energy Sciences (grant DE-FG02-13ER46943 and contract DE-AC02--05CH11231).

Stuart Wolpert | EurekAlert!

More articles from Materials Sciences:

nachricht Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells
11.12.2017 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires
07.12.2017 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht - Zentrum für Material- und Küstenforschung

All articles from Materials Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

MPQ scientists achieve long storage times for photonic quantum bits which break the lower bound for direct teleportation in a global quantum network.

Concerning the development of quantum memories for the realization of global quantum networks, scientists of the Quantum Dynamics Division led by Professor...

Im Focus: Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

Detailed calculations show water cloaks are feasible with today's technology

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while...

Im Focus: Scientists channel graphene to understand filtration and ion transport into cells

Tiny pores at a cell's entryway act as miniature bouncers, letting in some electrically charged atoms--ions--but blocking others. Operating as exquisitely sensitive filters, these "ion channels" play a critical role in biological functions such as muscle contraction and the firing of brain cells.

To rapidly transport the right ions through the cell membrane, the tiny channels rely on a complex interplay between the ions and surrounding molecules,...

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Long-lived storage of a photonic qubit for worldwide teleportation

12.12.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Multi-year submarine-canyon study challenges textbook theories about turbidity currents

12.12.2017 | Earth Sciences

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

12.12.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>