Oct 19, 2017 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Atomic Microscope Powerful Enough To Image Chemical Reactions In Real Time

Dec 18, 2015 01:15 AM EST

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The atomic force microscope (AFM) has its best upgrade in years. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has added a powerful feature to an already powerful microscope by allowing it to scan 2,000 times faster than its previous iteration.

AFM is one of the most powerful microscope in the world. It allows studying samples at nanoscale or million times smaller than the width of a human hair. Despite this, it can also zoom in and capture even the tiniest and subtlest details of a surface. It has its limitation though, as it takes too long to scan. AFM cannot capture dynamic events like chemical reaction. Most of the microscopes today, even those that are powerful, can only capture static images because they are "slow."

This AFM upgrade (a prototype still as of this writing) can now allow people to see chemical reactions and similar process. This prototype does have to use smaller platforms, meaning can only view smaller area, in order to make up for speed.

"People can see, for example, condensation, nucleation, dissolution or deposition of material in real-time -- things [they've] never seen before," MIT professor Kamal Youcef-Toumi said. 

The AFM prototype is enough image chemical reactions that is at least has semblance of real time at 8 to10 frames with 30fps considered as real time. The AFM upgrade is based on the work of Iman Soltani Bozchaloo while he is still completing his PhD. He is now on a postdoc at MIT's Mechanical Engineering department, while still in his PhD days.

"If the sample is static, it's ok to take eight to 10 minutes to get a picture," Youcef-Toumi said. "But if it's something that's changing, then imagine if you start scanning from the top very slowly. By the time you get to the bottom, the sample has changed, and so the information in the image is not correct, since it has been stretched over time."

Youcef-Toumi also added that to see the details emerging is fantastic, which will also open great opportunities in exploring the world at nanoscale.

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