Filming at nano scale level

The new MIT high-speed microscope produces images of chemical processes taking place at the nanoscale at a rate that is close to real-time video. This closeup shot of the microscope shows transparent tubes used to inject various liquids into the imaging environment. This liquid can be water, acid, buffer solution for live bacteria, cells, or electrolytes in an electrochemical process. Researchers use one as an inlet and the other as an outlet to circulate and refresh the solutions throughout the experiment. Credit: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

A team of researchers at MIT has reported a technique to film at nano scale level in near real time.

Looking at nano scale resolution requires an atomic force microscope (AFM) and it is with an instrument like this that IBM in the last century manage to create the word "IBM" using atoms.

However, getting an image from AFM requires a long process that makes it impossible to track evolution. No longer so.

The technique used by MIT researchers capture AFM images 2,000 times faster making it possible filming in quasi real time (see the clip).

Now this makes for some fun to curious people (like myself) but does it have any practical applications?

Well, beyond the fact that "seeing is believing" the possibility to look at what happens at the atomic molecular level provides some important insights on the effect of material structure. As an example, in the clips we can see the difference in interaction of an acid, sulphuric acid, on the surface of a material (calcite) depending on the smoothness of the surface. In turns, this will allow engineers to design surfaces with the right characteristics fitting specific needs of an application. This connects to the manufacturing of smart materials, an area that will characterise the next decade.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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