Democritus, the fifth century B.C. Greek philosopher, first postulated atoms to be the fundamental building blocks of the visible world. Since then, many advances in science have been driven by man's attempts to understand these atoms.
The advent of the Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM), an invention for which Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer recieved the 1986 Nobel Prize, has greatly increased our knowledge of how atoms build up matter. It's beautiful images at atomic resolution give a poignant demonstration of Democritus' hypothesis.
An exciting new development has been the ability to directly manipulate atoms with an STM, and so to form man-made structures at an atomic scale such as the Cornell University National Nanofabrication Facility logo shown below
The lines are only a few atoms wide, and are made with BEEM, an STM based technology.
Here at LASSP, we are intrigued by the possibility of using these techniques to understand fundamental aspects of Quantum Mechanics such as the influence of a dissipative environment on Schroedinger's cat. Specifically, we have calculated the effect of phonons (lattice vibrations) on the behavior of an atom tunneling from an STM tip to a surface and back, a simplified cousin of the aforementioned feline enigma.
Outline of our work: