The quantum tip's ultra-cold cloud of atoms (yellow) is contained in a magnetic trap and scanned across a nanostructured surface (Image: Universitaet Tubingen)
When trying to see objects that are too small for optical microscopes to image, scientists often turn to scanning probe microscopes. Instead of a lens, these instruments have a tiny suspended tip, that moves up and down as it makes contact with the object’s surface. An image, which can reveal details as small as one millionth of a millimeter, is obtained by scanning that probe back and forth across the object. Scientists from Germany’s Universitaet Tübingen have now taken scanning probe microscopy a step farther, by creating a probe made not from a solid material, but from a gas of atoms – this “quantum tip” is said to increase the resolution of images beyond what has so far been possible.