University of Oregon researchers say helium atoms could be central in creating a new imaging approach using an atom camera.

A newly devised nozzle fitted with a pinhole-sized capillary has allowed the scientists to distribute helium atoms with X-ray-like waves on randomly shaped surfaces. The researchers say that technique could power development of a new microscope for nanotechnology, allowing for a non-invasive, high-resolution approach to studying both organic and inorganic materials.

Physics Professor Stephen Kevan said all that is needed is a camera-like detector, which is now being pursued, to quickly capture images that offer nanometer resolution.

Kevan, the study’s principal investigator, said if the project is successful, the approach would build on advances already achieved with emerging X-ray-diffraction techniques.

Co-authors of the study are University of Oregon doctoral students Forest Patton and Daniel Deponte, and Greg Elliott, a physicist at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.

The research is reported in the July 7 issue of Physical Review Letters.