Physicists find new way of seeing atoms

Physicists find new way of seeing atoms

A UVM physicist has found a new way to see atoms in industrial materials using X-rays.


The findings of the experiment were first released online March 28 by the Nature Physics journal. Physics professor Randall Headrick led the research team, which consisted of his graduate student, Jeffrey Ulbrandt, researchers from Boston University and scientists from Argonne National Laboratory, according to a March 31 UVM press release.


Normal X-rays are not bright enough to be used to see beneath the surface of thin films. The brighter coherent X-ray source called a synchrotron allows more detail to be seen beneath the surface, Ulbrandt said.


“This new X-ray technique is based on coherent X-rays, and as they make X-ray sources they’re getting more advanced and more advanced,” Ulbrandt said. “And that’s going to allow us to see more detail that you wouldn’t have been able to see before.”


Thin films are used in things like computer chips, solar panels and optics, he said.


One of the advancements with this technique is the atoms do not have to be arranged in a specific order, but can instead be more scattered, Headrick said.  


“[Atoms] don’t have to be arranged in a perfect arrangement; it can be messy looking,” he said.


Sophomore Ashley Cagir said she thinks this an important advancement in thin film technology.


“This is a really beneficial discovery for developing better, more efficient technology that contains thin films,” Cagir said.