Photograph of a molecule

Scientists for the first time have managed to take a photographic image of a single molecule:

It may look like a piece of honeycomb, but this lattice-shaped image is the first ever close-up view of a single molecule.

Scientists from IBM used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to reveal the chemical bonds within a molecule.

‘This is the first time that all the atoms in a molecule have been imaged,’ lead researcher Leo Gross said.

The researchers focused on a single molecule of pentacene, which is commonly used in solar cells. The rectangular-shaped organic molecule is made up of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms.

In the image . . . the hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings are clear and even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be seen.

To give some perspective, the space between the carbon rings is only 0.14 nanometers across, which is roughly one million times smaller than the diameter of a grain of sand.

First Photograph of a Molecule

How mysterious this is, how full of wonder, how intricately made is everything in the universe, on every scale, from the vast to the miniscule.

Burke reminds us that the sublime–something that fills us with overwhelming awe–can be found not only in the vastness that seems to partake of infinity, but also in the smallness that seems to partake of infinity:

as the great extreme of dimension is sublime, so the last extreme of littleness is in some measure sublime likewise; when we attend to the infinite divisibility of matter, when we pursue animal life into these excessively small, and yet organized beings, that escape the nicest inquisition of the sense; when we push our discoveries yet downward, and consider those creatures so many degrees yet smaller, and the still diminishing scale of existence, in tracing which the imagination is lost as well as the sense; we become amazed and confounded at the wonders of minuteness; nor can we distinguish in its effect this extreme of littleness from the vast itself.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fws

    The rule of law and first article gifts always at work.

    I have trouble thinking of God constantly making things happen. Mentally I tend to think of God in human terms: that he created the universe with his laws and set it in motion and then becomes sort of a passive observer who only intervenes when miracles happen.

    any one out there have a different view of cosmology and God´s interactions with his creation that is different than this gut level thought of mine? where would one go to in the bible to see this?

  • fws

    The rule of law and first article gifts always at work.

    I have trouble thinking of God constantly making things happen. Mentally I tend to think of God in human terms: that he created the universe with his laws and set it in motion and then becomes sort of a passive observer who only intervenes when miracles happen.

    any one out there have a different view of cosmology and God´s interactions with his creation that is different than this gut level thought of mine? where would one go to in the bible to see this?

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Hey fws, good morning! I would point you to Leviticus and the Psalms. A careful read of Genesis gives one this same sense – oh, and that whole thing with the incarnation and Jesus walking about doing all sorts of stuff all through the NT. God’s always into the nitty gritty of His creation.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Hey fws, good morning! I would point you to Leviticus and the Psalms. A careful read of Genesis gives one this same sense – oh, and that whole thing with the incarnation and Jesus walking about doing all sorts of stuff all through the NT. God’s always into the nitty gritty of His creation.

  • WebMonk

    Depends on what you mean by miracles. Big, visible manifestations of sudden healings or the like? People coming to Christ? Having a car fly through a red light missing you only because your foot slipped off the accelerator for a second?

    I think that your view covers most possible views – God lets the universe run except when he intervenes with miracles. Just vary what constitutes a miracle, and you can cover just about every Christian view possible.

  • WebMonk

    Depends on what you mean by miracles. Big, visible manifestations of sudden healings or the like? People coming to Christ? Having a car fly through a red light missing you only because your foot slipped off the accelerator for a second?

    I think that your view covers most possible views – God lets the universe run except when he intervenes with miracles. Just vary what constitutes a miracle, and you can cover just about every Christian view possible.

  • http://tilling.tumblr.com Tickletext

    What if I suggested that life itself is a miracle?

  • http://tilling.tumblr.com Tickletext

    What if I suggested that life itself is a miracle?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Remember, FWS (@1), that God created the world with his word (Hebrews 11:3). And he also sustains the world with his word (Hebrews 1:3). If I were feeling more eloquent, I’d attempt to say more about that, but I think, in a nutshell, that latter verse has something to say to you.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Remember, FWS (@1), that God created the world with his word (Hebrews 11:3). And he also sustains the world with his word (Hebrews 1:3). If I were feeling more eloquent, I’d attempt to say more about that, but I think, in a nutshell, that latter verse has something to say to you.

  • Carl Vehse

    The resolution of the picture and technique used (the atomic force microscope) are certainly impressive.

    However, the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) or the field ion microscope (FIM) have been used to image atoms in the past. I have a picture in my old HS chemistry book (copyright 1958) that shows (albeit larger) individual tungsten atoms on the surface of a tungsten tip in a FIM photograph taken by Erwin Mueller. Mueller invented the technique in 1951 and later received the National Medal of Science.

  • Carl Vehse

    The resolution of the picture and technique used (the atomic force microscope) are certainly impressive.

    However, the scanning tunneling microscope (STM) or the field ion microscope (FIM) have been used to image atoms in the past. I have a picture in my old HS chemistry book (copyright 1958) that shows (albeit larger) individual tungsten atoms on the surface of a tungsten tip in a FIM photograph taken by Erwin Mueller. Mueller invented the technique in 1951 and later received the National Medal of Science.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Carl (@6), I was wondering about that, too. I, too, remembered an image in my high school chemistry book, though mine was of individual xenon atoms on a nickel substrate (spelling out “IBM”, as at this page, at the bottom … this does seem to be IBM’s area of expertise).

    That said, we’re both referring to images of individual atoms, not molecules. And while the image I was thinking of was made in 1989, I do have to wonder if nobody had imaged “all the atoms in a molecule” in the intervening 20 years. Or, really, if they can claim to have done so in the image at the top of this page (the hydrogens are … suggested … at best).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Carl (@6), I was wondering about that, too. I, too, remembered an image in my high school chemistry book, though mine was of individual xenon atoms on a nickel substrate (spelling out “IBM”, as at this page, at the bottom … this does seem to be IBM’s area of expertise).

    That said, we’re both referring to images of individual atoms, not molecules. And while the image I was thinking of was made in 1989, I do have to wonder if nobody had imaged “all the atoms in a molecule” in the intervening 20 years. Or, really, if they can claim to have done so in the image at the top of this page (the hydrogens are … suggested … at best).

  • Carl Vehse

    As I previously noted, the resolution is impressive. The pentacene molecule consists of hydrogen and carbon atoms. The carbon atom has a covalent radius of 70 picometers (pm; one trillionth of a meter). The xenon and tungsten atoms on surfaces had radii of 100 to 200 pm, depending on whether one considers the atomic or van der Waals radius (100 pm = 1 Angstrom).

    Since the hydrogen atom’s only electron is being shared in a covalent bond, the positions of each of the 14 hydrogen atoms are deduced, rather than actually seen.

  • Carl Vehse

    As I previously noted, the resolution is impressive. The pentacene molecule consists of hydrogen and carbon atoms. The carbon atom has a covalent radius of 70 picometers (pm; one trillionth of a meter). The xenon and tungsten atoms on surfaces had radii of 100 to 200 pm, depending on whether one considers the atomic or van der Waals radius (100 pm = 1 Angstrom).

    Since the hydrogen atom’s only electron is being shared in a covalent bond, the positions of each of the 14 hydrogen atoms are deduced, rather than actually seen.


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