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Rippling the surface of an electron sea.

If it weren't for the unnaturally luminous colors, you might think you were looking at ripples centered around a pair of barely submerged rocks in a pool of water. But this is a new kind of waterscape - one that originates in the realm of atoms, electrons, and quantum physics.

Metal atoms readily lose one or more electrons, and these electrons roam freely within the metal crystal to form a pervasive "electron sea." At the surface of a metal crystal, however, the loose electrons usually are confined to a thin layer. Free to move only in two dimensions, these particles also behave like waves.

Donald M. Eigler and his co-workers at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., used a scanning tunneling microscope at 4 kelvins to detect tiny variations in the concentration of electrons across the surface of a copper crystal They observed distinctive patterns of electron density corresponding to standing waves, in which the locations of the peaks and troughs of the electron waves remain fixed.

In the image shown, a pair of imperfections on the surface of a copper crystal deflects electrons in such a way that the incoming and scattered electron waves overlap to create concentric ripples at each defect. The electron layer responsible for generating this standing-wave pattern is just 0.02 angstrom deep.

Eigler and his colleagues describe their technique for imaging electron waves in the June 10 NATURE. Researchers at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., have recently obtained similar images of standing electron waves on a gold surface at room temperature.
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Title Annotation:scanning tunneling microscope used to image electron waves on surfaces of metal crystals
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 12, 1993
Words:266
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