Atom Photo Wins EPSRC Award

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SWINDON, England, March 5, 2018 — An image of a single positively charged strontium atom, held near motionless by electric fields, has won the overall prize in a national science photography competition organized by the U.K.’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

"Single Atom in an Ion Trap," by David Nadlinger from the University of Oxford, shows an atom held by the fields emanating from the metal electrodes surrounding it. The distance between the small needle tips is about 2 mm. When illuminated by a laser of the proper blue-violet color, the atom absorbs and reemits light particles sufficiently quickly for an ordinary camera to capture it in a long-exposure photograph. The winning picture was taken through a window of the ultrahigh vacuum chamber that houses the ion trap.

Single Atom in Ion - Overall Winner and 1st Equipment and Facilities - Mr David Nadlinger, University of Oxford
"Single Atom in an Ion Trap" — overall winner and first in Equipment and Facilities. Courtesy David Nadlinger, University of Oxford.

Laser-cooled atomic ions provide a pristine platform for exploring and harnessing the unique properties of quantum physics. They can serve as extremely accurate clocks and sensors or, as explored by the U.K. Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub, as building blocks for future quantum computers, which could tackle problems that stymie even today's largest supercomputers. The image came in first in the Equipment and Facilities category and was the overall winner against many other stunning pictures featuring research in action.

“The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the minuscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality,” Nadlinger said. “A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.”

The EPSRC is the U.K.'s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences.

Published: March 2018
BusinessEngineering and Physical Sciences Research CouncilEPSRCawards'Single Atom in an Ion TrapDavid NadlingerUniversity of OxfordEurope

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