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Volume 618 Issue 7963, 1 June 2023

Atomic power

X-rays are widely used to characterize materials, but samples still require a reasonably high number of atoms for success. In this week’s issue, Saw-Wai Hla and his colleagues report that they have used synchrotron X-rays to characterize the elemental and chemical state of an individual atom. The team was able to detect X-ray-excited currents generated from an iron and a terbium atom in molecular hosts. The ring-shaped supramolecules containing iron are pictured on the cover: these feature terpyridine subunits linked together by seven metal-atom bridges, six of which are ruthenium, only one of which is iron. The researchers were able to characterize the iron atom when the detector tip was around 0.5 nanometres directly above the atom.

Cover image: Yiming Li and Saw Wai Hla

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