A newly developed “quantum microscope” directly observes the electron orbitals of a hydrogen atom, using photoionization and an electrostatic magnifying lens.
Images © APS/Alan Stonebraker
The hydrogen atom is unique, since it only has one electron. Only be using quantum mechanics wave functions, scientists can describe the microscopic properties of matter, whose structure and time dependence is governed by the Schrödinger equation.
In atoms the charge distributions described by the wave function are rarely observed.
In this Letter in Physical Review, scientists report photoionization microscopy experiments where this nodal structure is directly observed. The experiments provide a validation of theoretical predictions that have been made over the last three decades.
A photoionization microscope provides direct observation of the electron orbital of a hydrogen atom. The atom is placed in an electric field E and excited by laser pulses (shown in blue). The ionized electron can escape from the atom along direct and indirect trajectories with respect to the detector (shown on the far right). The phase difference between these trajectories leads to an interference pattern, which is magnified by an electrostatic lens.