A tiny seashell


New X-ray lenses reveal stunning detail in the shell of a microscopic diatom.


The silica shell of the diatom Actinoptychus senarius, measuring only 0.1 mm across.
The silica shell of the diatom Actinoptychus senarius, measuring only 0.1 mm across.
DESY/AWI, Andrew Morgan/Sasa Bajt/Henry Chapman/Christian Hamm

The silica shell of a tiny diatom – a marine creature about a tenth of a millimetre across – is shown here magnified 5000 times.

The exquisite detail of the complex nanostructures in the shell is visible thanks to new lenses that allow an X-ray beam to be focussed onto a spot less than ten nanometres across.

The lenses – a particularly fine kind of multilayer Laue lenses, which rely on diffracting X-rays between fine layers of material, rather than the refraction through transparent material common in optical lenses – are made from more than 10,000 alternating layers of tungsten carbide and silicon carbide. This functions as an artificial crystal that diffracts the X-rays with high efficiency onto the tiny target area.

According to Sasa Bajt, the scientist who led the development of the new lenses at DESY, the German synchrotron facility,

Creating 3D images is next on the agenda, with what Bajy describes as an ultimate goal of “one nanometre resolution”.

The lens is described in the journal Light: Science and Applications.

Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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