Hydrogen atoms under the magnifying glass

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - 08:00 in Physics & Chemistry

To describe the microscopic properties of matter and its interaction with the external world, quantum mechanics uses wave functions, whose structure and time dependence is governed by the Schrödinger equation. In atoms, electronic wave functions describe - among other things - charge distributions existing on length-scales that are many orders of magnitude removed from our daily experience. In physics laboratories, experimental observations of charge distributions are usually precluded by the fact that the process of taking a measurement changes a wave function and selects one of its many possible realizations. For this reason, physicists usually know the shape of charge distributions through calculations that are shown in textbooks. That is to say, until now. An international team coordinated by researchers from the Max Born Institute has succeeded in building a microscope that allows magnifying the wave function of excited electronic states of the hydrogen atom by a factor of more...

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