Using vibrations to detect impurities in materials

New research proves it’s possible to detect that a single atom impurity is present in a material – using vibrational properties.

Led by the University of Leeds, in collaboration with the Sorbonne University in Paris, researchers located a single atom of silicon within a graphene crystal by using an electron microscope. 

The energy of the microscope’s electron beam causes a material’s atoms to vibrate, creating a unique vibrational energy fingerprint. If there’s an impurity in the material ­– even just one atom – the vibrational fingerprint is different. This allowed the scientists to detect and locate the silicon atom within the graphene crystal.

Professor Quentin Ramasse, from the University of Leeds, said: “We now have direct evidence that a single “foreign” atom in a solid can change its vibrational property at the atomic scale.

“This has been predicted for decades, but there has not been any experimental technique to observe these vibrational changes directly. We have been able to show for the first time that you can record that defect signature with atomic precision.”

The researchers used the SuperSTEM Laboratory and their findings have been published in the journal Science.

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