Scientists map every atom inside a nanoparticle

The trick could help spot the tiniest defects in materials.

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Colin Ophus and Florian Niekiel, Berkeley Lab
Colin Ophus and Florian Niekiel, Berkeley Lab

Even the smallest defects can create serious problems. It's a good thing, then, that researchers have found a way to map nanoparticles at an "unprecedented" level of detail -- they've located the 3D positions of all 23,000 atoms in an iron-platinum particle. The group used an extremely high-resolution transmission electron microscope (TEAM I) to capture 2D projections of the nanoparticle's structure, and used an algorithm to stitch those together into a 3D reconstruction. If there's a missing or misplaced atom, you could easily spot it.

The work could help spot consistent flaws in nanoparticle products, which could be vital in health care and other areas where you can't afford a mistake. And even if it doesn't, there are numerous other practical purposes. Scientists hope to create an internet database that illustrates atom-level material properties, and the 3D algorithm could be used for CT scans and other imaging tech. In short, this clearer look at the nano-scale world could have a tremendous effect on many fields -- it may just be a matter of time.

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