An atom is so small, how can we see it? To get an idea, an atom would be the size of an apple compared to the the earth.
In a recent episode by Reactions (previously), author Sam Kean hosts the “Legends of Chemistry” series. He discusses the history of the atom since ancient Greek times, modern evidence of atoms, and doubts of the existence of atoms by many scientists because atoms couldn’t be seen.
Kean also explains why using a microscope with visible light doesn’t allow you to see atoms and short wavelengths like x-ray allowed researchers to work backwards to create a model of an atom. It’s wasn’t until the 1980s that modern tools such as the scanning tunneling microscope allowed for more accuracy in viewing the actual atoms and seeing them for real. And the father of femtochemistry, Ahmed Zewail created a way to see atoms in action.
Of course since we’re talking about atoms here, I have to include the smallest stop-motion film created by IBM, A Boy And His Atom. Researchers created this short film by moving atoms, which sounds easy. They explained how they did it with this behind the scenes video. And those ripples you see in the short film aren’t special effects, they’re ripples on the surface as explained by principal investigator, Andreas Heinrich at IBM Research.