You will have heard of the saying ‘like trying to find a needle in a haystack’ , well how about this one, ‘trying to find a single atom in a crystal’.

This phenomena has now been successfully carried out by a research team. Individual atoms of lanthanum have been observed in crystals of calcium titanate.

The technique used involves using an electron microscope that has its beam narrowed by a technique called ‘abberation-correction’.

It is hoped that it will allow scientists an improved understanding of materials that have properties depending on the arrangement of atoms (for example, catalysts or alloys).

Article adapted from an article in ‘New Scientist’ magazine on the 31st January, 2004 on page 16, titled ‘Spot the atom’.