In a Huge First, Physicists Have Captured Individual Atoms And Watched Them Merge
To understand how atoms unite to turn into molecules, we need to catch them in action. But to do that, physicists must force atoms to pause long enough for their exchanges to be recorded. That's no easy task, and one physicists from the University of Otago have only just recently achieved.
Given short enough light waves, an experimenter has a good chance of trapping something as tiny as an individual atom in its pinch. Of course, first the atoms need to be cooled right down to make them easier to catch, and then separated into an empty space.
"Our method involves the individual trapping and cooling of three atoms to a temperature of about a millionth of a Kelvin using highly focused laser beams in a hyper-evacuated (vacuum) chamber, around the size of a toaster," says physicist Mikkel F. Andersen.