Give Now

A Moment of Science

Sharper by Far

Find out how scientists made a tip so small it only consists of one atom. Now that's sharp!

a pencil surrounded by shavings

Photo: Anna L. Conti

As you sharpen it, the wood and lead surrounding the center fall away, leaving a sharp point.

Scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada discovered a process to create the sharpest tip in the world. In fact, it’s kind of like sharpening a pencil. You begin with a rod. As you sharpen it, the wood and lead surrounding the center fall away, leaving a sharp point.

The researchers discovered a way to do something similar with a very fine needle. Like everything else, the tip of a needle is made of atoms. Normally, though, the atoms at the very tip are constantly smudging away. The University of Alberta scientists figured out a way to make the tip consist of a single atom.

They coated the surrounding atoms with nitrogen, which made them fall away, leaving only the single-atom tip.

For some reason nitrogen affects only the atoms around the edges, so you end up with an incredibly fine, sharp tip which is useful for emitting electron beams for electron microscopes.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science