Now You Know

Photo of Single Atom Wins the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council National Science Photography Competition

Mention of a ‘pale blue dot‘ always takes me back to the iconic picture of Earth as taken by Voyager 1 from far away in space (3.7 billion miles / 6 billion kilometers from the Sun). But the blue dot in this picture is that of a single atom of Strontium.

David Nadlinger, from the University of Oxford, set up his camera on a tripod, shot high-powered laser at a single atom of Strontium held floating in an electric field in an ultra-high vacuum chamber, and took a long exposure shot as energized electrons gave off enough light for an image to be captured on the camera’s sensor. He titled his picture ‘Single Atom in an Ion Trap’, and explained how the photograph came about:

The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the miniscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality. A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.

David Nadlinger - University of Oxford

David Nadlinger – University of Oxford

The picture came first in the Equipment & Facilities category, as well as winning overall against many other stunning pictures in the national science photography competition organised by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).