How a Student Took a Photo of a Single Atom

The award-winning long-exposure photograph captures a positively charged atom suspended in an ion trap.

David Nadlinger, who traps atoms for his quantum computing research at the University of Oxford, captured this image on August 7 using a standard DSLR camera. The photo shows a pinprick of a positively charged strontium atom illuminated by a blue-violet light on a black background. The atom is held nearly motionless by an electric field emanating from two metal electrodes placed on either side of it. The distance between the ion trap’s small needle tips is less than .08 of an inch.

The photograph, entitled “Single Atom in an Ion Trap,” won the overall science photography prize put on by the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.