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Winner Of Science Photo Contest Captures Picture Of An Atom

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A quantum physicist at the University of Oxford, has captured a nearly impossible photo remarkable enough to win the overall price in a science photography competition.

EPSRC Science Photo Competition 2017

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) organizes the photo contest for EPSRC-supported researchers and doctoral students who want to share their research work through pictures.

"We are looking for images that will demonstrate research in action," EPSRC described the photo that they want for the competition, which was announced in October last year.

'Single Atom In An Ion Trap'

David Nadlinger, from the University of Oxford, took the winning photo for the fifth EPSRC science photo competition.

The image titled "Single Atom in an Ion Trap" shows a single positively charged strontium atom held still by electric fields while being blasted by blue-violet lasers, causing it to emit light

Strontium Atom

The strontium atom has 38 protons and has a diameter of a a few millionths of a millimeter, an extremely tiny object to see.

Nadlinger employed a clever trick to make the atom visible in the image. He used high-powered laser to make the atom look much brighter.

The laser causes the electrons orbiting the atom to be more energized, and these energized electrons would give off light. Once the energized electrons give off enough light, it is now possible for even an ordinary camera to image the atom. Nadlinger took the photo through a window of the vacuum chamber, which houses the ion trap.

The atom appears as the faint blue dot at the center of the photo, but it is still not easy to see. People can't normally see atoms with the naked eye. The image is a long exposure shot, which means that even with the atom giving off light, it is still too faint to pick without equipment.

Nadlinger used extension tubes, lens accessories that can increase the focal length of a lens and is often used for extreme close-up photography. Besides this, he used normal gears that most photographers use.

Laser-Cooled Atomic Ion

Laser-cooled atomic ions can serve as accurate clocks and sensors, as well as building blocks for developing future quantum computers.

"Every year we are stunned by the quality and creativity of the entries into our competition and this year has been no exception," said EPSRCs Deputy Chief Executive Tom Rodden.

"They show that our researchers want to tell the world about the beauty of science and engineering."

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