Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A glimpse inside the atom

18.07.2016

Using electron microscopes, it is possible to image individual atoms. Scientists at TU Wien have calculated how it is possible to look inside the atom to image individual electron orbitals.

An electron microscope can't just snap a photo like a mobile phone camera can. The ability of an electron microscope to image a structure – and how successful this imaging will be – depends on how well you understand the structure. Complex physics calculations are often needed to make full use of the potential of electron microscopy.


Atomic orbitals of carbon atoms in graphene Orbitale von Kohlenstoffatomen in Graphen

Copyright: TU Wien

An international research team led by TU Wien’s Prof. Peter Schattschneider set out to analyse the opportunities offered by EFTEM, that is energy-filtered transmission electron microscopy. The team demonstrated numerically that under certain conditions, it is possible to obtain clear images of the orbital of each individual electron within an atom. Electron microscopy can therefore be used to penetrate down to the subatomic level – experiments in this area are already planned. The study has now been published in the physics journal “Physical Review Letters”.

In search of the electron orbital

We often think of atomic electrons as little spheres that circle around the nucleus of the atom like tiny planets around a sun. This image is barely reflected in reality, however. The laws of quantum physics state that the position of an electron cannot be clearly defined at any given point in time.

The electron is effectively smeared across an area close to the nucleus. The area that could contain the electron is called the orbital. Although it has been possible to calculate the shape of these orbitals for a long time, efforts to image them with electron microscopes have been unsuccessful to date.

“We have calculated how we might have a chance of visualising orbitals with an electron microscope”, says Stefan Löffler from the University Service Centre for Transmission Electron Microscopy (USTEM) at TU Wien. “Graphene, which is made of just one single layer of carbon atoms, is an excellent candidate for this task. The electron ray is able to pass easily through the graphene with hardly any elastic scattering. An image of the graphene structure can be created with these electrons.”

Researchers have been aware of the principle of “energy-filtered transmission electron microscopy” (EFTEM) for some time. EFTEM can be used to create quite specific visualisations of certain kinds of atoms whilst blocking out the others. For this reason, it is often used today to analyse the chemical composition of microscopic samples. “The electrons shot through the sample can excite the sample’s atoms”, explains Stefan Löffler. “This costs energy, so when the electrons emerging emerge from the sample, they are slower than when they entered it. This velocity and energy change is characteristic for certain excitations of electron orbitals within the sample."

After the electrons have passed through the sample, a magnetic field sorts the electrons by energy. "A filter is used to block out electrons that aren’t of interest: the recorded image contains only those electrons that carry the desired information.”

Defects can be helpful

The team used simulations to investigate how this technique could help reach a turning point in the study of electron orbitals. While doing so, they discovered something that actually facilitated the imaging of individual orbitals: “The symmetry of the graphene has to be broken”, says Stefan. “If, for instance, there is a hole in the graphene structure, the atoms right beside this hole have a slightly different electronic structure, making it possible to image the orbitals of these atoms. The same thing can happen if a nitrogen atom rather than a carbon atom is found somewhere in the graphene. When doing this, it’s important to focus on the electrons found within a narrow and precise energy window, minimise certain aberrations of the electromagnetic lens and, last but not least, use a first-rate electron microscope." All of these issues can be overcome, however, as the research group’s calculations show.

The Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Universität Ulm, and McMaster University in Canada also worked alongside the TU Wien on the study in a joint FWF-DFG project (“Towards orbital mapping”, I543-N20) and a FWF Erwin-Schrödinger project (“EELS at interfaces”, J3732-N27). Ulm is currently developing a new, high-performance transmission electron microscope that will be used to put these ideas into practice in the near future. Initial results have already exceeded expectations.

Further information:
Dr. Stefan Löffler
Service-Einrichtung für Transmissions-Elektronenmikroskopie (USTEM)
TU Wien (Vienna)
Wiedner Hauptstraße 8, 1040 Vienna
stefan.loeffler@tuwien.ac.at

Prof. Peter Schattschneider
Institute of Solid State Physics
TU Wien (Vienna)
Wiedner Hauptstraße 8, 1040 Vienna
peter.schattschneider@tuwien.ac.at

Weitere Informationen:

http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.117.036801 Original publication: Mapping Atomic Orbitals with the Transmission Electron Microscope: Images of Defective Graphene Predicted from First-Principles Theory
https://www.tuwien.ac.at/dle/pr/aktuelles/downloads/2016/orbitale Picture Download

Dr. Florian Aigner | Technische Universität Wien

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
17.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

nachricht Subaru Telescope helps pinpoint origin of ultra-high energy neutrino
16.07.2018 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

Im Focus: Chemical reactions in the light of ultrashort X-ray pulses from free-electron lasers

Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.

Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Microscopic trampoline may help create networks of quantum computers

17.07.2018 | Information Technology

In borophene, boundaries are no barrier

17.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

The role of Sodium for the Enhancement of Solar Cells

17.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>