See Inside June 2007

Atomic Fingerprinting

Microscope discerns an atom's chemical identity

Deciding whether a substance is, say, steel, brick, wood or plastic is easy--but not on the atomic scale, which lacks information about such everyday characteristics. Using an atomic-force microscope (AFM), however, an international team of physicists has developed a method of atomic "fingerprinting" that can determine the chemical identity of individual atoms on a surface mixed with all of them.

"Until now, there was not any technique that would allow us to identify atom by atom and see them at the same time," says Rub?n Per?z of the Autonomous University in Madrid. Using their AFM approach, Óscar Custance and his collaborators at Osaka University, along with Peréz and his colleagues and others, could discern tin, silicon and lead, which are all chemically similar. The resulting image of the atoms resembles a granulated painting, where the "grains"--the individual atoms--are distinguishable in false color.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article