Very often in science fiction films set in the future, particularly those about spaceships, you can see machines that produce everything, especially food, with a simple command. To do this you need to manipulate atoms at the basic level, something we are not yet able to do, in order to build everything molecule by molecule. However, manufacturing atomic devices atom by atom with precise control is the goal of many scientists and research institutes.
This is also demonstrated by a new study conducted by a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Vienna and other international institutes who have taken a good step in this direction, which is still “futuristic” at the moment. The scientists have succeeded in developing a method by which atoms can be repositioned with a highly focused electron beam. With this beam, it is then possible to control the exact position of the atom and its orientation. This discovery could be the basic approach for humanity to truly enter a new era of “atomic engineering.”
Published in Science Advances, the study aims to “control from one to a few hundred atoms, check their positions, check their state of charge and control their electronic and nuclear spin states,” as Ju Li, one of the researchers involved in the study, says.
While previous research was based on the use of microscopic needles and tunnel effect microscopes to manipulate atoms at this level, this new process manipulates atoms using a beam of relativistic electrons with a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM).
With this system, the atom can be electronically controlled with magnetic lenses which, among other things, do not require moving mechanical parts. The process therefore becomes faster and more practical. It is “an exciting new paradigm for the manipulation of atoms,” as Toma Susi, professor at the University of Vienna who is involved in the study, says.