Researchers at New York’s Columbia Engineering and The Université de Bourgogne have been working to create a new type of high-speed scientific camera that uses neutrons to measure atomic positions.
This is achieved by using what the team refers to as a new variable shutter PDF method – which stands for atomic “pair distribution function” – in which a shutter speed of around a picosecond (a trillion times faster than normal camera shutters) is used to could see clusters of atoms in a much larger structure that would otherwise be blurred.
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Feeling a little lost? So were we, but in simple terms, speeding up a camera shutter a million million times will allow scientists to see atoms frozen in time, the same way we freeze motion as photographers, as opposed to seeing a blurry cluster of atoms.
This new invention, as explained carefully by Columbia Engineering’s report (opens in new tab)will help advance the use of sustainable energy by understanding how materials transfer and transport heat using atoms – and could lead to more energy-efficient thermoelectric devices in the future, such as solid-state refrigerators.
The principles behind the research showed that the best performing materials in sustainable energy often involve a process known as dynamic disorder, where collective clusters of atoms within a much larger structure will oscillate in time – which has traditionally been difficult to study.
The video above explains this new method of variable shutter PDF or vsPDF and why it doesn’t work quite like a conventional camera – as it actually captures neutron scattering images as opposed to images.
Isn’t it great when science and photography meet? And fascinating to think about the applications that this will have to improve sustainable energy and ultimately turn waste heat into electricity.
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