Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Light From A Single Strontium Atom

The image of light from a single strontium atom in an atom trap has won the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council photography competition.

You can see a more detailed photo of it on Science Alert.

Unfortunately, there is a bit of misconception going on here. You are not actually seeing the single strontium atom, because it highly depends on what you mean by "seeing". The laser excites the single strontium atom, and then the strontium atom relaxes and releases energy in the form of light. This is the light that you are seeing, and it is probably a result of one or more atomic transition in the atom, but certainly not all of it.

So you're seeing light due to the atomic transition of the atom. You are not actually seeing the atom itself, as proclaimed by some website. This is the nasty obstacle that the general public has to wade through when reading something like this. We need to make it very clear when we report this to the media on what it really is in no uncertain terms, because they WILL try to sensationalize it as much as they can.

Zz.