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  • Lensless X-ray Microscope Images Nanoscale Detail
Aug 2011
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 12, 2011 — A new x-ray microscope that computes images using an algorithm rather than a lens is allowing scientists to see minute details at the nanoscale. The algorithm can convert the diffraction patterns of x-rays bouncing off an object, yielding images with nanoscale detail. The system works somewhat like adaptive optics, making continual calculations to yield a resolvable image.

Magnetic domains appear like the repeating swirls of fingerprint ridges. As the spaces between the domains get smaller, computer engineers can store more data. (Image: UC San Diego)

To test their microscope's ability to penetrate and resolve details at the nanoscale, University of California, San Diego, physicists made a layered film composed of the magnetic materials gadolinium and iron. They found that when combined in a structure, these two materials spontaneously form nanoscale magnetic domains and self-assemble into magnetic stripes.

Under the x-ray microscope, the layered gadolinium and iron film crinkle up magnetically to form a series of magnetic domains that look like the repeating swirls of the ridges in fingerprints. Resolving those domains at the nanoscale for the first time could prove critical for computer engineers seeking to cram more data into smaller and smaller hard drives.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to use a magnet in this way while using a bulky lens, said Oleg Shpyrko, who headed the research team.

The UCSD team used the Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, which produces ultrapowerful coherent x-rays, to conduct their experiment. The study was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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adaptive optics
Optical components or assemblies whose performance is monitored and controlled so as to compensate for aberrations, static or dynamic perturbations such as thermal, mechanical and acoustical disturbances, or to adapt to changing conditions, needs or missions. The most familiar example is the "rubber mirror,'' whose surface shape, and thus reflective qualities, can be controlled by electromechanical means. See also active optics; phase conjugation.
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