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Seeing with Atoms!

How can you study something if you can’t see it? Now, imagine if looking at something damaged it… How would you study it when merely looking at it changed it?

It’s not far from the truth! Think about the fabric in your house, curtains or a sofa, or your favourite T-Shirt, is it the same colour as when you bought it? The fading and discolouring of fabric is an effect of light breaking down the chemicals in the dye, so it’s not hard to believe light is damaging your sample. If you use higher energy particles like electrons the damage can be even greater. We have made a microscope that doesn’t damage a sample while imaging it!

Our microscope uses a beam of helium atoms to measure surfaces. We make the beam, focus it onto a sample, and then detect the scattered intensity. By rastering the sample in the beam, we can generate an intensity map which has contrast originating from various properties of the surface, especially its topography, but we can also learn about its chemical composition and other surface properties.

At our  exhibit we have interactive demonstrations, which show what happens when you scatter high momentum particles from a soft surface, the exhibit uses augmented reality so that you can explore the microscope itself (and has targets you can take and use at home) we have real examples of images we have measured which you can match to samples using RFID cards and we have a live link to our helium microscope lab so you can see and talk with the researchers!