Cornell University researchers captured a sample from a crystal in three dimensions and magnified it 100 million times.
Their work could help develop materials for designing more powerful and efficient phones, computers and other electronics.
The researchers obtained the image using a technique called electron ptychography. It involves shooting a beam of electrons, about a billion of them per second, at a target material. The beam moves infinitesimally as the electrons are fired, so they hit the sample from slightly different angles each time. Based on the speckle pattern generated by the electrons, machine-learning algorithms can calculate where the atoms were in the sample and what their shapes might be, the researchers say.
Cornell physicist David Muller says they figured out how to reconstruct two-dimensional samples with the technique, which resulted in the highest-resolution image by any method in the world and a Guinness World record. The researchers were able to better preserve their samples by using a lower-energy wavelength.
The next generation of electronic devices need such high-resolution techniques. Researchers are searching for more efficient semiconductors in order to move beyond Silicon-based computer chips. Engineers need to know what they are working with to make this happen. It is important for the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy because batteries are a promising area for using electron ptychography.