Man Takes Picture of the Impossible

Feb 15, 2018 por Elias Khatal

Image Credit for photo above: David Nadlinger, Oxford University

Sometimes a good photo is only a small part of the story, and sometimes it's very, very small. In David Nadlinger's photo, this is just the case. A physics student from Oxford University has achieved photographic genius as part of his research in quantum computing. During an experiment, he managed to trap and immortalize an atom with a simple DSLR camera. The picture, a spectacular sight, was greeted by the entire scientific community. Among other awards, it has been awarded the Scientific Photo of the Year Award by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. EPSRC is an English institution that provides funding for research in the UK.

An experimental photo

An atom is on average 0.1 to 0.5 nanometers, not that we can actually fully understand what that means. Though, at 38 protons and 215 billionths of a millimeter across, ‘strontium’ atoms are somewhat larger in relation to the average atom. Basically, an atom is a million times smaller than the thickest human hair. Anyways, It is an object so small that we can not even really assume its size. To give you an idea, the space in which the atom in question is measured is barely 2 millimeters. So, how could such a photo be taken? David Nadlinger first trapped one and only one atom of strontium. Once he isolated this atom, he exposed it to different lasers in order to observe it. Realizing that he was probably holding something incredible, he decided to install a tripod, 50mm lens, extension tubes, some flashes and placed his DSLR. Thanks to a long exposure the student managed to capture the radiation of the atom. A genius idea that gave us this never-before-seen picture.

atom photographed by camera

Image Credit: David Nadlinger, Oxford University

Seen with the naked eye

Strontium is a naturally occurring element on Earth, that can be found in very small amounts such as in teeth and bones. This is the first time it is observed in this way.

"The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye has appeared to me as an incredibly straightforward and visceral bridge between the tiny, quantum world and our macroscopic reality," said Nadlinger. "While going to the laboratory with a camera and tripods on a quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded by this particular photo of a tiny blue dot".

This "tiny blue dot" that we discern just then leads us to rethink the scale of our universe, and reminds us that there is a world that escapes our eyes! Sometimes all it takes is a DLSR camera, a curious student and a microscopic atom to change the scientific community!

Stay updated

Get the latest photographic news and inspiration