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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

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One-Nanometer Resolution is Goal for Optical Imaging Photonics

Producing optical images at resolutions as low as one nanometer is the goal of Virginia Tech College of Engineering researcher Yong Xu, who has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award. Xu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, secured the five-year CAREER grant, which is worth $400,000 and is NSF's most prestigious award for creative junior faculty who are considered likely to become academic leaders of the future.

"The resolution of most optical microscopes is restricted by the so-called 'diffraction limit,' which means we cannot produce optical images with resolutions higher than a few hundred nanometers," Xu said. "Currently, the most advanced optical microscope can achieve a resolution only as low as 50 nanometers."

In the field of nanotechnology, researchers are discovering ways to arrange atoms into unique structures on the molecular scale. Xu is attempting to produce an optical microscope that can observe nanostructures at a resolution of one nanometer, which is equal in size to approximately one-billionth of a meter, or the diameter of four atoms.

In addition to achieving a breakthrough in arranging nanostructures, Xu hopes that his research will lead to observation of the "vacuum field" at a resolution of one nanometer.

"Vacuum field refers to the tiny amount of electric field fluctuations that can exist in the absence of any sources such as electrons or atoms," Xu explained. "Even though vacuum field cannot be directly measured, without it no light source can emit light. Observing the vacuum field at one nanometer resolution would help scientists solve one of the few remaining mysteries of quantum electrodynamics."

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