IBM scientists have come up with a way to create an image of a single electron by capturing its minute magnetic signals, a breakthrough that could give researchers a clearer idea of how subatomic particles behave. The achievement in turn could lead to more powerful atomic microscopes, new materials or drugs.
The result comes out of research performed by Daniel Rugar, manager of nanoscale studies at IBM's Almaden Research Center and others on a form of MRI called magnetic resonance force microscopy (MRFM), which can be 10 million times more sensitive than the MRI systems doctors use. The central feature of an MRFM is a microscopic silicon "microcantilever" with a magnetic tip that vibrates at a frequency of about 5,000 times a second. Further research is aimed at improving the sensitivity to detect individual protons and other particles.