If atoms were not connected to each other, everything in the universe would not exist. The sun, the earth, our animals, our plants, our people – they all originate from a single chemical process: that’s when two atoms join together to form everything we do. Is called “material“.
However, the cruel truth is that until recently, no one had observed the process of two atoms bonding together. Even physicists with the latest microscope lenses are powerless to capture the moment that happens on this 0.2 nm scale. To visualize, it is half a million times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
Until today, a study in the journal Science Advances for the first time published a short video recording that historic moment. The scientists said they used a transmission electron microscope (TEM) system to record the process of two atoms bonding together in real time.
And this is a magical moment, when two atoms play a game of chasing and hugging each other:
For the first time, scientists returned to the scene where two atoms were connected
Film the atoms in real time
The 18-second video shows two atoms dancing together in an empty carbon tube. But gradually, they got closer and closer, before the two small spots suddenly merged into one.
Whirling in his dance, the fused molecule is constantly deformed, jumping through different angles until the bond is broken, the atoms are apart again.
But the string of connection between them cannot seem to be severed. After only a split moment, the two atoms joined together again. They are constantly separated and reunited in their lively dance.
Getting back together atoms is a scientific feat that no one has ever done before. To make this breakthrough, scientists had to confine a pair of rhenium atoms – a heavy metal element – in extremely narrow carbon nanotubes.
These carbon tubes have a diameter down to the molecular scale, only about 1-2nm wide. They act as a miniature test tube and also act as a set for the atoms to show their roles.
The whole process is filmed under a transmission electron microscope (TEM). It is a technique that uses high-energy electron beams to shoot through the sample, and recover all pierced, reflected or scattered electrons from the sample to reproduce the image.
“To our knowledge, this is the first time that atomic processes have been spinning, splitting and forming [phân tử] filmed“, Professor Andrei Khlobystov from the University of Nottingham, and one of the lead authors of the study said.
Two rhenium atoms are dropped into a carbon nanotube to “dance” together.
Why do atoms have to link together?
We know that atoms can hardly stand alone in the universe. Even the lightest molecules are air, they must attach atoms together to form molecules.
When an oxygen (O) atom stands alone, it will have to resort to pairing with another oxygen atom to form an oxygen molecule (O).2), or an oxygen molecule to form ozone (O3), or with any other compound to form oxide.
Atoms must bind together to increase stability and reduce their own energy. The atoms standing alone are always in a state of high energy, so it is difficult to survive sustainably. A positively charged atom will then want to find a negatively charged atom or vice versa to form a more stable molecule with unique properties.
But in order to bond, atoms must first share electrons and achieve a balance between the positive and negative pulls generated by their nuclei and electrons.
As the video shows, when the two atoms are connected, they walk down the narrow corridor of the carbon test tube. However, at some point, their bond is still disrupted when its length exceeds the size of the atoms.
The bonds between atoms change when their surroundings change. In this case, it becomes weaker as the atoms move in pairs along the nanotube, the researchers write.
The two atoms then separate and become independent again, but then they are pulled together again and re-formed molecules.
This is the first time that the atomic processes that spin, separate and mount have been filmed.
For us, it’s good to have atoms paired up. Because it will help limit the energy they cause and affect the surrounding life.
In outer space, when molecules are often separated by cosmic rays, many reactions will occur very intensely, typically atomic oxygen corrodes the spaceship hulls, gradually causing them to fail and disappear. into cosmic rubbish blocks no less.