Image of single atom scoops top science photography prize

UK News | Published:

There were more than 100 entries in the prestigious annual competition.

This picture showing a single glowing atom of strontium won the top prize in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s annual photography competition. (David Nadlinger/ University of Oxford/EPSRC /PA Wire)

An image of a single atom of the metal strontium suspended in electric fields has won a prestigious science photography prize.

David Nadlinger’s photo, Single Atom In An Ion Tap, was captured through the window of a vacuum chamber in an Oxford University laboratory, using an ordinary digital camera on a long exposure shot.

Two metal electrodes, two millimetres apart, held the strontium almost motionless as it was illuminated with a blue-violet-coloured laser.

Mr Nadlinger said: “The idea of being able to see a single atom with the naked eye had struck me as a wonderfully direct and visceral bridge between the minuscule quantum world and our macroscopic reality.

“A back-of-the-envelope calculation showed the numbers to be on my side, and when I set off to the lab with camera and tripods one quiet Sunday afternoon, I was rewarded with this particular picture of a small, pale blue dot.”

An atomic force microscope captured a close-up of the surface of a butterfly wing (Bernice Akpinar/Imperial College London/EPSRC/PA Wire)

There was also a two-part entry from Luke Cramphorn of the University of Bristol Robotics Laboratory, featuring a robotic hand and arm taking a selfie with a selfie stick and a mobile phone, along with the selfie photograph itself.


Professor Dame Ann Dowling, the president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and one of the judges, said: “Not only do we have really strong, attractive photographs, the stories behind them about the research and why it is being done are inspiring.”

A robot takes a selfie at the University of Bristol’s Robotic Laboratory (Luke Cramphorn/University of Bristol Robotic Laboratory/EPSRC/PA Wire)

“They show that our researchers want to tell the world about the beauty of science and engineering.”

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