by Staff Writers
Vienna, Austria (SPX) Mar 27, 2012
The quantum physics of massive particles has intrigued physicists for more than 80 years, since it predicts that even complex particles can exhibit wave-like behaviour - in conflict with our everyday ideas of what is real or local.
An international team of scientists now succeeded in shooting a movie which shows the build-up of a matter-wave interference pattern from single dye molecules which is so large (up to 0.1 mm) that you can easily see it with a camera.
This visualizes the dualities of particle and wave, randomness and determinism, locality and delocalization in a particularly intuitive way. Seeing is believing: the movie by Thomas Juffmann et al. will be published on March 25 in "Nature Nanotechnology".
A quantum premiere with dye molecules as leading actors
The scientists now premiered a movie which shows the build-up of a quantum interference pattern from stochastically arriving single phthalocyanine particles after these highly-fluorescent dye molecules traversed an ultra-thin nanograting.
As soon as the molecules arrive on the screen the researchers take live images using a spatially resolving fluorescence microscope whose sensitivity is so high that each molecule can be imaged and located individually with an accuracy of about 10 nanometers. This is less than a thousandth of the diameter of a human hair and still less than 1/60 of the wavelength of the imaging light.
A breath of nothing
In order to reduce the van der Waals interaction the scientists used gratings as thin as 10 nanometers (only about 50 silicon nitride layers). These ultra-thin gratings were manufactured by the nanotechnology team around Ori Cheshnovski at the Tel Aviv University who used a focused ion beam to cut the required slits into a free-standing membrane.
Motivation and continuation
The experiments have a strongly didactical component: they reveal the single-particle character of complex quantum diffraction patterns on a macroscopic scale that is visible to the eye. You can see them emerge in real-time and they last for hours on the screen. The experiments thus render the wave-particle duality of quantum physics particularly tangible and conspicuous.
The experiments have a practical side, too. They allow to access molecular properties close to solid interfaces and they show a way towards future diffraction studies at atomically thin membranes.
Publication in "Nature Nanotechnology" Real-time single-molecule imaging of quantum interference: Thomas Juffmann, Adriana Milic, Michael Mullneritsch, Peter Asenbaum, Alexander Tsukernik, Jens Tuxen, Marcel Mayor, Ori Cheshnovsky and Markus Arndt. Nature Nanotechnology (2012). DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2012.34. Online Publication: 25.3.2012
University of Vienna
Understanding Time and Space
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