‘Superman’ microscope can see nanoscale details without lenses

Physicists at UC San Diego have developed a new kind of X-ray microscope that can penetrate deep within materials like Superman’s fabled X-ray vision and see details at the scale of a single nanometer, or one billionth of a meter.

What’s unusual about this new, nanoscale, X-ray microscope is that the images are not produced by a lens, but by means of a powerful computer program.

The computer program, or algorithm, is able to convert the diffraction patterns produced by the X-rays bouncing off the nanoscale structures into resolvable images, the report said.

“The mathematics behind this is somewhat complicated,” said Oleg Shpyrko, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who headed the research team. “But what we did is to show that for the first time that we can image magnetic domains with nanometer precision. In other words, we can see magnetic structure at the nanoscale level without using any lenses.”

One immediate application of this lens-less X-ray microscope is the development of smaller, data storage devices for computers that can hold more memory.
“This will aid research in hard disk drives where the magnetic bits of data on the surface of the disk are currently only 15 nanometers in size,” said Eric Fullerton, a co-author of the paper and director of UC San Diego’s Center for Magnetic Recording Research. “This new ability to directly image the bits will be invaluable as we push to store even more data in the future.”

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