Researchers at the University of Oregon discovered that helium atoms with X-ray-like waves can be distributed on randomly shaped surfaces using a newly devised nozzle fitted with a pinhole-sized capillary. Researchers claim that this new technique could advance the development of a new microscope for nanotechnology, providing a high-resolution and non-invasive approach towards studying both organic and inorganic materials. Here’s the scoop from the university’s site:
The research, funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education, was the first to capture speckle diffraction patterns using atomic de Broglie waves. The Nobel Prize in physics went to France’s Louis de Broglie in 1929 for his work on the properties of matter waves.
All that is needed is a camera-like detector, which is now being pursued, to quickly capture images that offer nanometer resolution, said principal investigator Stephen Kevan, a physics professor at the University of Oregon. If successful, he said, the approach would build on advances already achieved with emerging X-ray-diffraction techniques.
The nozzle used in the experiments is similar to one on a garden hose. However, it utilizes a micron-sized glass capillary, borrowed from patch-clamp technology used in neuroscience. The capillary, smaller than a human hair, provides very small but bright-source atoms that can then be scattered from a surface. This distribution of scattered atoms is measured with high resolution using a field ionization detector.
The helium atoms advance with de Broglie wavelengths similar to X-rays, but are neutral and non-damaging to the surface involved. Kevan’s team was able to measure single-slit diffraction patterns as well as speckle patterns made on an irregularly shaped object.