Get a picture in your mind of how big a grain of sand is. Okay…got it? Now…think of a really small object one million times smaller than that. Okay…got that? Now think of the significance of taking a picture of that small object.
Last week, IBM scientists announced they have successfully used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to reveal the chemical bonds within a molecule. This is a significant announcement as this is the first time that all the atoms in a molecule have been imaged.
The image that was taken was of a rectangular-shaped organic molecule is made up of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms. The image looks similar to the shape of molecules we all learned in chemistry classes in high school and college. The image (a bit blurry) shows hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings are clear and even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be seen.
To understand the significance of the first ever image, you have to understand how small the molecule was that was imaged. The space between the carbon rings is only 0.14 nanometers across, which is roughly one million times smaller than the diameter of a grain of sand. Now that is small!
So what does this announcement have to do with you? Perhaps not much, but it means a big deal to future generations that will be in a world made up of very small (nano) things. The IBM scientists say that this research could have a huge impact of the field of nanotechnology, which seeks to understand and control some of the smallest objects known to mankind.
"Scanning probe techniques offer amazing potential for prototyping complex functional structures and for tailoring and studying their electronic and chemical properties on the atomic scale.” - IBM Researcher Gerhard Meyer
More pictures are here on Flickr. A video is on YouTube here. And check out IBM’s announcement “IBM Scientists First to Image the Anatomy of a Molecule”