IBM team reveals atomic imaging breakthrough

IBM researchers have pushed the boundaries of microscopy power in a development that could assist in the future production computer chips using graphene.

For the first time, the researchers were able to detect the individual bonds that hold atoms together, using atomic force microscopy to create an image at this small scale.

The powerful microscope has, at its tip, just one carbon monoxide atom, and the IBM team has in the past been able to use it to detect the chemical structure of single atoms.  Now they have been able to determine individual bonds between atoms, measuring the force between the tip of the microscope and the sample, creating an image of the bonds, which can be just one-hundredth of an atom’s diameter.  

According to IBM, this could prove very useful in developing a future generation of electronics. The likes of Intel believe that chip production should continue relatively steadily until around the 5nm stage, so many are on the lookout for new semiconductor production methods.  

While graphene is clearly a long way from supplanting silicon in chips, with many steps to overcome to prove that it could one day work at commercial levels in the same way that silicon has succeeded, IBM and others such as Samsung are investing in lab developments.

IBM says that the ability to image bonds at the this level could assist in graphene development, a material which consists of atom thick layers of carbon placed on top of each other to often astounding effect.