A few decades ago, who would have imagined that we’d be able to photograph a hydrogen atom? Given what we know about quantum mechanics, the whole concept would have been dismissed as absurd.
But in that creative nexus where science and technology merge, miracles can happen. The seemingly impossible can become reality, and that is exactly what happened in 2013 when an international team of scientists successfully captured an image of the hydrogen atom, in all its simple yet sublime glory.
This amazing feat was announced in the May 24, 2013 edition of Physical Review Letters. It was achieved by a group of nine scientist connected with universities and physics institutes in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Greece and the United States. To accomplish this task, they developed a new type of observational device known as a ‘quantum microscope.’ This equipment and the experiments it enables allow physicists to peer all the way into the subatomic realm, without disturbing it or altering its nature.
Conventional microscopes magnify microorganisms or other objects too small to be seen with the naked eye. In general, the more powerful the microscope the smaller the object or life form that can be seen.
But beyond a certain point we can descend no further. Quantum physics prohibits the visual exploration of the extremely small, since the very act of trying to see into the subatomic realm shapes its reality.