holograms of atoms
Scientists can create holograms that reveal how atoms are arranged within a molecule. Lühr et al. via the American Chemical Society.

A new imaging technique is letting scientists peek inside molecules to get a better read on how their atoms are arrayed.

Until now, researchers could only scan the surface of molecules or image a few atoms at a time. But recently, scientists reported in the journal Nano Letters that they have devised a way to spy on thousands of atoms at once.

How it works: High-energy electron waves are shot at a molecule. The electrons scatter on impact, bouncing off the molecule’s atoms in distinct patterns. Based on these patterns, scientists are able to build a hologram of the molecule.

Scientists have tried using holography to probe the atomic setup of different molecules before, but they relied on lower-energy electron waves. By ramping up the waves to several thousand volts, the team was able to create much clearer pictures, which they showed off with a few holograms of pyrite (aka fool’s gold).

Knowing where individual atoms are hanging out inside different molecules will help scientists better understand their unique properties.