In 1990, scientists at IBM Corp.'s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., used the minute tungsten probe of a scanning tunneling microscope to move atoms of xenon around on a nickel surface, ultimately spelling out the letters I-B-M (Nature, 344:524-6, 1990). This remarkable feat of engineering opened up an entirely new realm of applications for this microscope, which was designed to image atomic-sized specimens, not push them around.

Since the first transmission electron microscope was sold in 1935, microscopes that use electrons--rather than light waves--to image objects have brought into focus levels of detail that were previously unimaginable. The scanning tunneling microscope (STM) is one of the more recent developments in this field, and using STM to write with atoms is one of its more innovative applications. But scientists are using electron microscopy in other new ways, as well. These include constructing three- dimensional images of minerals and some...

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