Posted in biology, chemistry, electronic imaging and displays, medical imaging, Optics

Imaging molecules

This isn’t so much about the art behind imaging molecules (although it is kind of pretty) but more about the technology behind the camera that took the image. This is actually an older story, and I’ve been debating whether it’s Art of Science worthy, but frankly, it’s just amazing that we’re finally able to image something as small as a molecule, so it’s in based solely on coolness.

From BBC News:

The detailed chemical structure of a single molecule has been imaged for the first time, say researchers.

The physical shape of single carbon nanotubes has been outlined before, using similar techniques – but the new method even shows up chemical bonds.

Understanding structure on this scale could help in the design of many things on the molecular scale, particularly electronics or even drugs.

The IBM researchers reported their findings in the journal Science in August of this year.

It is the same group that in July reported the feat of measuring the charge on a single atom.

In both cases, a team from IBM Research Zurich used what is known as an atomic force microscope or AFM.

Their version of the device acts like a tiny tuning fork, with one of the prongs of the fork passing incredibly close to the sample and the other farther away.

When the fork is set vibrating, the prong nearest the sample will experience a minuscule shift in the frequency of its vibration, simply because it is getting close to the molecule.

Comparing the frequencies of the two prongs gives a measure of just how close the nearer prong is, effectively mapping out the molecule’s structure.



Beth Kelley is an applied & digital anthropologist with an overall interest in how people engage with and are impacted by their environments and vice versa. This has manifested itself in many ways, by looking at creativity, playful spaces, built environments, and environmental enrichment, sustainability, design research, and integrative and collaborative models of learning such as through play and hands-on learning.