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Can we see the electron move someday?

From the moment Ahmed Zewail, the Egyptian Nobel laureate in 1999, was able for the first time to photograph what happens during chemical reactions, through his innovation of “femtochemistry”, until researchers engaged in enthusiastic attempts to capture images in finer ranges by a wide difference.

The importance of this type of image is that it removes the clutter from the eyes of chemists. Before the achievements of Zewail, for example, it was not possible for researchers to see the mechanism of action of chemical reactions, only they could see substance “X” interfering with substance “Y” and then something happens that does not Scientists see it and only assume its mechanism, so that Article “A” comes out.

The race for the electron

Now, two decades after that achievement, multiple teams around the world are trying to reach the new milestone of capturing images in the “attosecond” range.

When femto-chemistry was invented, that meant the ability to capture images in a millionth of a billionth of a second, while capture in the “ato-second” range meant cameras 1,000 times faster.

Thus, scientists will be able, not only to monitor chemical reactions, but to monitor the atoms themselves directly, and Dr. Muhammad Hassan, assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Arizona, believes in a report on the university’s website that it is possible to monitor the movements of the electrons themselves inside the atom.

Hassan runs his own laboratory at the university, and he aspires to be the first to open this window, but it is a very difficult task, as the atom is a very small entity, to the extent that the diameter of one hair is equal to 500 carbon atoms standing next to each other.

If we assume that a single atom is a huge opera hall, then the nucleus will be the size of a grain of sand in the middle of it, and the electrons will orbit the walls and they are so small that we need, to get to half their mass, to add 30 zeros after the decimal point.

Zewail was able for the first time to visualize what happens during chemical reactions through his innovation of femto chemistry (Institute for the History of Science – Wikipedia)

First steps

However, the success of Hassan’s first steps, whose results were published in prestigious journals such as “Science” and “Nature,” opened the door for him to receive great support from those interested in this field, whether governmental, scientific or technical.

For example, Hassan received $ 1.3 million in funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation in the form of a research award. The foundation is an American initiative that was founded by Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of Intel, and his wife, Betty A. Moore, two decades ago.

Also, Hassan’s lab received a $ 450,000 prize in support of the US Air Force, and recently in March 2020 it received a $ 1.1 million prize from the WM Keck Foundation to support its research.

And if the dreams of Hassan and other researchers in this domain are realized, then we are close to great achievements in several areas on top of which are computers and the development of their systems, as well as the domains of neuroscience and pharmacology, because studying the atom with such precision will open to scientists areas in which they currently have nothing but assumptions as if they were A group of blind people in a vast desert.




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