Researchers at the University of Basel have made the smallest Swiss cross in the world, out of just 20 atoms. It’s the first time a structure of single atoms has been made at room temperature – it normally has to be much colder for the structure to be stable.
The international team in the university’s physics department used the tip of an atomic force microscope, which is extremely tiny and used in nanotechnology, to place the bromine atoms on an insulating surface.
The Swiss cross they constructed measures only 5.6 nanometres square.
Physicists have been able to move around and reposition single atoms since the 1990s, when done at very low temperatures. Attempts to create these types of structures at room temperature however, had produced disappointing results up until now as they were too difficult to control and properly manipulate.
The study, which was published in the journal, Nature Communications, states that the researchers have showed that the systematic manipulation of atoms at room temperature is now possible, demonstrating a key step towards a number of new developments, including new atomic-scale data storage devices.