Who knew something so essential could be so stunning? David Nadlinger’s shot of a positively charged atom imprisoned in electric fields won the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s scientific photography competition and continues to wow people worldwide.
The beauty of this photograph is, of course, that someone has finally succeeded in taking a picture of something that is generally approximately 100 picometers in size. It’s hard to imagine anything that little can be seen with the naked eye, much alone photographed. To clarify, the camera caught the light an atom absorbs and re-emits when irradiated by the proper blue-violet laser. The winning picture was taken via a window in the ion trap’s ultra-high vacuum chamber.
In a statement, Nadlinger said, “The concept of seeing a single atom with the naked eye struck me as a delightfully direct and tactile connection between the minuscule quantum realm and our macroscopic reality.” When I went to the lab with my camera and tripods on a calm Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this specific photo of a tiny light blue dot. This light blue dot won the competition’s judges over the other dazzling submissions.