It is stunning that this first of its kind image and description of how it was taken can be studied by anyone with an internet browser — almost immediately upon its discovery. It will be many months at least before this new insight into and picture of molecules will be delivered to students in a printed textbook.
The machine in the illustration is an Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) explained by physicist Ethan Siegel at his StartsWithABang blog. Siegel describes how the AFM works: “Basically, you make a tiny, sharp, atomic needle that you move over the top of a molecule. When you approach different atoms in a molecule, the electric forces either attract or repel the needle. As the needle moves up and down, the handle that it’s attached to feels forces and torque. So, all you have to do is measure these tiny changes in force and torque, and you can image the molecule beneath it.”
The gray inset image is what the AFM let’s us see. Siegel comments that: “You can even see that the electrons like to live on the outside edges of the carbon rings, and that there are fourteen tiny hydrogen atoms bonded to the carbon atoms at various points. What an amazing picture; the entire molecule is only 1.4 nanometers across!”
The inset image is from BBC’s report of 8/28/09 titled “Single molecule’s stunning image.” Several developing concepts are highlighted in the BBC report, each of them offering potential for nano technologies where work will be done at the molecular level. A post at Gizmodo by Jack Loftus explains why what is displayed in the inset images is a stunning breakthrough: “That B&W structure is an actual image of a molecule and its atomic bonds. The first of its kind, in fact, and a breakthrough for the crazy IBM scientists in Zurich who spent 20 straight hours staring at the ’specimen’—which in this case was a 1.4 nanometer-long pentacene molecule comprised of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms.”
Physics: spotlighting exceptional research is a American Physical Society feature with small capsules of cutting edge research. An example capsule this month is Lending an iron hand to spintronics, about (are you ready?): Enhanced Spin Hall Effect by Resonant Skew Scattering in the Orbital-Dependent Kondo Effect. That is a very small subject which approaches this challenge: “A dream of spintronics is to find a way to easily convert between spin and charge currents, a task many believe will involve tapping into (so far) unutilized quantum properties of matter.”
To foresee how learning is about to flip end-for-end, contrast the tiny spintronics charge switching subject with the college physics textbook you used. The textbook began with big subjects in chapters that in turn divided downward into smaller and smaller topics. If a small new topic came along, about the best you could do to add it into the textbook would be to slip a clipping between pages of a relevant chapter.
How different learning is becoming! If you are collecting material online about quantum properties, electron charges, and many other subjects, the little tiny spintronics spotlight page would be relevant in the mix of materials you are collecting. Today you might find the little spotlight on Google, but you could easily miss the chance to use it. Something profoundly more powerful lies around the corner.
When search engine optimization, linking by subject experts, tagging, and the rest of the network tools of emergence have taken hold of educational online resources, knowledge will organize itself. While you are researching quantum properties, the latest spintronics spotlight will make itself known. The optimization of the spotlight will make this emergence happen for you just when its ideas are relevant to what you are learning.
I am simplifying here a bit to make the point that knowledge abounds in the network matrix. It is the little bits that will dynamically replace the printed hierarchies of the textbook past.
Quarked Adventures in the Subatomic Universe teaches particle physics in simple terms. There are games and other activities for small children, but the Subatomic Universe Roadmap and the Glossary integrated with the map are an excellent introductory primer for anyone on the subatomic structure of the world around us and the cosmos.
A more extensive glossary can be found at the CERN ATLAS experimental site.