Scientists have created a microscopic gingerbread house

Microscopic gingerbread house
© iStock/greenleaf123/RuthBlack

Canadian researchers have created a microscopic gingerbread house, believed to be the smallest in the world, half the size of the one created in France last year.

McMaster University researcher Travis Casagrande said he used a beam of charged gallium ions to act as a sandblaster. The Christmas scene showed a tiny gingerbread house sitting atop a cap on the head of a tiny winking snowman made from the materials used in lithium-ion battery research.

Barely taller than the diameter of a single human hair, the festive feat was created using the centre’s suite of 10 electron microscopes and other equipment used in material research.

“While the spirit of the new decorations is festive, the intention of the project,” said Casagrande, “is to demonstrate the capabilities of the centre” and “stir scientific curiosity among the public.”

Unlike the traditional desktop microscope that focuses light through an optical lens, the electron microscopes used in this experiment uses an electron beam and electromagnetic lenses, allowing for far greater magnification.

A team of researchers in Japan built the high-voltage transmission electron microscope which is small enough to reside in a laboratory. High-voltage transmission microscopes (TEMs) use special characteristics of electrons, such as their wave-like properties, in order to create images of things as small as a single hydrogen atom.

Until recently, such TEMs have been very large, due to the need to use electron accelerators, limiting their general use. The team of Japanese scientist achieved this feat by using radio frequency cavities in order to speed up electrons enough to create beams, allowing them to overcome the lack of coherence that had ended other efforts aimed at making a small TEM.

After passing through two radio frequency cavity splicers the beam was snipped into synchronised pulses. The resulting pulsed beam was then sent to a more powerful radio frequency cavity that aimed the beam at the desired sample.

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