July 25, 2012 at 2:20 PM ET
With the aid of super-short X-ray pulses, scientists can generate static pictures of things such as hydrogen atoms. Up next is the ability to stitch them together to make a movie with a frame rate of an image per femtosecond, Technology Review reports.
The technique is being pioneered by a team of theorists at the Center for Free Electron Laser Science at DESY in Hamburg, Germany, and described earlier this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Key to making it all work is a clear understanding of how the X-ray pulses interact with the electrons and distort the shape of the hydrogen atom, an effect that until now has largely been ignored given its complexity.
The German researchers calculated what the effect would be and found it would be substantial. Understanding this, in turn, is a key step for interpreting the movies they will be making once technology catches up to theory.
--Via Technology Review