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Author Topic: Is it possible to make an optical microscope that can see atoms?  (Read 6022 times)

Offline latebind

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Would it be possible to create an optical microscope powerful enough to see atoms?

I do know that the answer is probably no, but then what would we see if we wouldn't see atoms with a very powerful optical microscope??? Would we just see blackness?



 

Offline Eric A. Taylor

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Would it be possible to create an optical microscope powerful enough to see atoms?

I do know that the answer is probably no, but then what would we see if we wouldn't see atoms with a very powerful optical microscope??? Would we just see blackness?



Nope. Atoms don't interact with light like everyday experience will lead you to believe. Remember that on the atomic scale Newtonian physics no longer apply.

  When you see an object, light from a light source hits it reflects into your eye and you see it. On the atomic level however quite a lot is going on. When a photon hits an atom the atom becomes excited. It basically absorbs the energy contained in the photon (a photon is nothing more than a packet of energy). The amount of energy in the photon determines it's color. "Color" here refers to the entire EM spectrum from very low energy radio to very high energy gamma-rays, not just the colors you can see with your eyes.

  When the atom adsorbs this energy it's electrons jump to a higher orbit (called a "quantum leap"). This is a little weird because electrons can only orbit the nucleus at very particular distances and cannot be at any other distance from the nucleus AT ANY TIME. This means that the electron cannot get to the higher orbit by going THROUGH the space in between. It gets around this by not going that way. Imagine walking through your bedroom door and you find yourself thousands of miles away in some other part of the world (or on the moon which would be a bummer without a space suit). It also means that there are some "colors" of photons that different atoms cannot absorb.

  Atoms don't like being excited so they will quickly expel the energy in the form of a new photon. This is how spectroscopy works.

  If you want to know what an atom would look like if you could see it, well no one is really sure. A Japanese physicist drew a model in the 1940's or 50's that became very famous based on the solar system model but this isn't quite right. Electrons, unlike planets, aren't in just one place. They are in every place they can be in until someone decides to look for them. Think of a tiny drop of ink on paper. You can take your thumb and smear the ink all over. The electrons are "smeared out" around the atom in this same way.

  Quantum physics, the physics that dominate on the atomic and sub-atomic scale is nothing like what you preference.
 

Offline RD

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