Probing the intimacies of atom-to-atom contact

  • The researchers reported in the journal Physical Review Letters how they watched the strength of the magnetic interaction, a measure of the overlap of the edges of the two atoms.
  • As atoms move toward each other they begin to interact through a force known as the exchange interaction, which grows as the overlap between the wave functions gets stronger.
  • They measured the magnetic effect of the approaching iron atom on the titanium atom’s energy levels with two separate methods: electron spin resonance, which gave more detailed measurements for the weaker interaction, and inelastic electron tunnelling spectroscopy, which allowed measurements of the stronger interactions at closer quarters.
  • An example, Heinrich says, might be to place two or three atoms side by side on a surface, and then to apply a force to one of them and observe how the connections between the atoms vary.

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