Understanding the Nanoscale

Rohrer and Binnig
Nobel Laureates Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig who created the scanning tunneling microscope and won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1986.
Gadolinium on Niobium
The upper image is a topograph of three gadolinium atoms on a niobium surface. The lower image is a simultaneously acquired map of the conductance in the sample.

Courtesy: IBM Research, Almaden Research Center.

From The Scanning Tunneling Microscope at NobelPrize.org

Blue Nickel
The unreconstructed surface of Nickel.

Courtesy: IBM Research, Almaden Research Center.

From The Scanning Tunneling Microscope at NobelPrize.org

Documenting what is too small to see with the naked eye

In 2008, Emmet Cole’s article titled ‘Scientists Scan Striking Nanoscale Images‘ was published in Wired magazine.  The article included the best of several spectacular images made by scanning tunneling microscopes from a competition honoring the 25th anniversary of the STM.  “For the first time, late last year, a team of British scientists filmed the nanoscale interaction of an attacking virus with an enzyme and a DNA strand in real time… This was the latest breakthrough in the advancement of scanning probe microscopes — the family of nonoptical microscopes researchers use to create striking images through raster scans of individual atoms. The granddaddy of them all is the scanning tunneling microscope, a 1986 invention that won its creators the Nobel Prize. STMs pass an electrical probe over a substance, allowing scientists to visualize regions of high electron density and infer the position of individual atoms and molecules.”

Powers of 10 project

In 2007,  NanoProject wanted to help teach the nanoworld to high school students.  Using the Powers of 10 film as part of the foundation, a lesson plan was developed to explain the orders of magnitude.  For example, helping students visualize the jumps in scales was found most helpful.

“How Can We Imagine the Nanoscale?
“Another way to imagine the nanoscale is to think in terms of relative sizes. Consider yourself with respect to the size of an ant (3-5 millimeters). An ant is roughly 1000 times smaller than you are. Now think of an ant with respect to the size of an amoeba (about 1 micron). An amoeba is about 1000 times smaller than an ant. Now, consider that a nanometer is roughly 1000 time smaller than an amoeba! You would have to shrink yourself down by a factor of 1000 three times in a row in order to get down too the level of the nanoscale.”

For Powers of 10 projects, click below.
Scale of Objects – student materials
Scale of Objects – teacher materials

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  1. benjamin
    Posted December 27, 2011 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Wow! Very impressive! These pictures from a Microscope are some of the best I’ve seen. No wonder they won the Nobel prize! Also it would be great to learn more about the nano scale. How can we get access to this Power of 10 film? Thanks

    • marlow
      Posted December 29, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

      You can purchase the film Powers of Ten by visiting the Eames Office store at eamesgallery.com. You can also watch the film online for free by visiting powersof10.com/film. Thanks for your interest!

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