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The Sharpest Object Ever Made 304

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the not-as-sharp-as-my-wit dept.
ultracool writes "Forget the phrase 'sharp as a tack.' Now, thanks to new University of Alberta research, the popular expression might become, 'sharp as a single atom tip formed by chemically assisted spatially controlled field evaporation.' Maybe it doesn't roll off the tongue as easily, but considering the researchers have created the sharpest object ever made, it would be accurate."
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The Sharpest Object Ever Made

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  • by dubmun (891874) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:50AM (#15705364) Homepage Journal
    single atom tip formed by chemically assisted spatially controlled field evaporation: SATFBCASCFE. Sharp as a SATFBCASCFE... hmmm maybe not.
  • Nitrogen? (Score:5, Funny)

    by m_chan (95943) * on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:51AM (#15705370) Homepage
    "they were able to coat peripheral atoms near the peak with nitrogen"

    Nitrogen?? That chunk who wears a dress-size seven? She sneezes crisco. Sharp? Yeah, like a marble. Wake me up when we get to Kate Moss waif-like Hydrogen. Then I can carve my initials on tubby Boron.
  • by AKAImBatman (238306) * <akaimbatman@gma i l . c om> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:52AM (#15705375) Homepage Journal
    Forget the phrase 'sharp as a tack.' Now, thanks to new University of Alberta research, the popular expression might become, 'sharp as a single atom tip formed by chemically assisted spatially controlled field evaporation.

    How about, "sharper than a tack?"

    Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
  • ...Chuck Norris
  • Get dull? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by imboboage0 (876812) <imboboage0@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:52AM (#15705382) Homepage
    Well over time knives get dull from use. unless I'm mistaken, this one atom could easily break off, right? Wouldn't it be instantly dull?
    • by Golias (176380) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:56AM (#15705415)
      Well over time knives get dull from use. unless I'm mistaken, this one atom could easily break off, right? Wouldn't it be instantly dull?

      As long as it is only used to poke really soft, non-abrasive things, you should be good to go.

      Of course, some nay-sayers might ask why you would ever need The Sharpest Object Ever Made to poke holes in chocolate pudding, but who needs that kind of negativity?
    • Re:Get dull? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MrSquirrel (976630)
      I don't think it would be very easy to just "break off" (you're talking about powerful electron-proton bonds). You could try and get the atom to bond with another atom... but it already has a pretty cozy home. A knife made of this would probably be pretty bendy at the blade... but it would still have a mean cut!
    • Re:Get dull? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by nacturation (646836) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `noitarutcan'> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:58AM (#15705442) Journal
      Well over time knives get dull from use. unless I'm mistaken, this one atom could easily break off, right? Wouldn't it be instantly dull?

      "Such a pointy pyramid of metal atoms would normally just smudge away spontaneously..." I'll let you actually RTFA for the hilarious, biting conclusion.
       
    • That's my biggest quesetion. Sharp is nice, but sharp and hard is what you need. Dislocating a single atom should be easy, unless these are some sort of super-close-packed. But, it sounds like the nitrogen coating is on the outside, so I'm wondering how tight the structure could be.
    • Re:Get dull? (Score:5, Informative)

      by RobertNotBob (597987) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:26AM (#15705677)
      from TFA, they are planning on using it for an electron emitter in an electron microscope.

      In THAT application, the small size of the point is of great advantace without ever physically touching anything.

    • Not really (Score:5, Informative)

      by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @11:37AM (#15706198) Journal
      I'll assume that they'll (eventually) going to make the tip or edge or whatever out of some cristalline metal. In which case, not really.

      Let's first define "sharp". No object in the world is a perfect edge ending in a clean zero-width edge. All knives, pins, etc, have a tip that, under a powerful enough microscope looks "blunt". What you'd see would be something like a pretty rounded "tip". What makes it "sharp" is that it's a very small surface.

      In other words, imagine two cones, both ending up in a bit of a section of a sphere. Except one is a 0.01 inch radius and the other is a 1 inch radius. What makes the first one sharp and the other one blunt? Pressure. Pressure equals force divided by surface. The surface rises with the square of that radius. So the first one needs 10,000 times less force to produce the same pressure. You can create enough pressure with your thumb to push a tack's small tip through wood, but you'd need an industrial press if you wanted to push a 1 inch steel ball into wood.

      In other words what makes something sharp is simply having a small enough tip. You need the same pressure to break through a given material. Having a smaller tip just means you can reach that pressure with less force. At some point you need very little force, and at that point we consider the object to be "very sharp".

      How does that help us here? Let's say you had such a pyramid, and let's say you managed to break off the atom at the tip. So now you have a "blunt" tip that's made of a 2x2 atom square. That's still _incredibly_ sharp. It's million times smaller than the tip of a tack or pin, hence it would need accordingly less force to push through the material of your choice.

      In other words, forget about breaking off an atom. You'd coukd lose _thousands_ of layers from that tip and still count as sharp.
      • Re:Not really (Score:5, Interesting)

        by RedBear (207369) <redbear@@@redbearnet...com> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @02:07PM (#15707415) Homepage
        In other words, imagine two cones, both ending up in a bit of a section of a sphere. Except one is a 0.01 inch radius and the other is a 1 inch radius. What makes the first one sharp and the other one blunt? Pressure. Pressure equals force divided by surface. The surface rises with the square of that radius. So the first one needs 10,000 times less force to produce the same pressure. You can create enough pressure with your thumb to push a tack's small tip through wood, but you'd need an industrial press if you wanted to push a 1 inch steel ball into wood.


        There should be a special moderation category for this kind of comment: "Score: 5, Excellent example of why Slashdot kicks Digg's ass and gets read religiously every day by hundreds of thousands of geeks even though the actual articles often suck".

        I am less and less impressed every time some twit actually compares sites like Digg to Slashdot, as if they have anything in common besides posting links to geeky articles. I come to Slashdot every day to get insights from commenters who are more intelligent or more well informed than myself. I can pretty much be assured that, no matter what the subject of the article, if I read enough posts I will come away with a well-rounded understanding of it based on seeing several different well-written viewpoints.

        Thank you for a very interesting post.
  • Aleut harpooner (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:52AM (#15705386) Homepage Journal
    It sounds like science is catching up with the glass blades Raven carries in Neal Stephenson's book Snow Crash [wikipedia.org].

    Dmitri "Raven" Ravinoff -- An Aleut native who works as a mercenary. His preferred weapons are glass knives - undetectable by security systems and reputed to be molecule-thin at the edges - and throwing spears. He travels on a motorcycle whose sidecar has been replaced with a hydrogen bomb that will automatically detonate if his heart stops beating.

    On another technicality, isn't pencil lead actually made up of sheets a single molecule thick?

    We could arm minjas [askaninja.com] (midget ninjas) with these molecular spears and graphite shurikens to make the real ultimate killing power even more ultimaterer.
    • Re:Aleut harpooner (Score:2, Informative)

      by Elvis Parsley (939954)
      Um...we (that is, humanity) have been making blades like that for millenia. The knives Raven uses in Snowcrash are simply flaked stone tools, a technology which appeared in the Upper Paleolithic. Their major drawback is that they lose their edge quickly when used, but they're nigh-trivial to make if you've got a lump of obsidian or other cryptocrystaline material. Eye surgeons were starting to use stone blades a few decades ago, though their use has been superceded by lasers.
      • Re:Aleut harpooner (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tinkerghost (944862)
        Microtome [wikipedia.org] blades for Transmition Electron Microscopy are either made from cracked glass (cheap & disposable, but I used to do 2 or 3 at a pop to get one with a clean break) or gemstone (emerald, saphire, and diamond) cleaves (longer lasting but fragile and pricy).
        Oh and for nigh-trivial - check out National Geographic segments on this - it's a bitch & a half to get a consistant & usable blade (something sharp to accidently cut yourself with appears much easier).
        • Re:Aleut harpooner (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Elvis Parsley (939954)
          I suspect we're talking about different things. It's fairly easy to get the sort of blade useful for the kinds of things Raven did. I never got past flakes and hand-axes myself, but I knew a number of people who got the hang of pressure-flaked blades pretty quickly. I'm entirely willing to believe that getting a useful blade for a microtome (I can see how consistency would be a very large problem) is an entirely different kettle of rocks.
    • On another technicality, isn't pencil lead actually made up of sheets a single molecule thick?

      No, these are actually stacks of graphite sheets, a bit like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Graphit_gitter. png [wikipedia.org]

  • Sharp? (Score:5, Funny)

    by tygerstripes (832644) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @09:53AM (#15705396)
    I won't be impressed until they split the atom. Now THAT will be a shiny pin.
  • Now that we can use these to apparently make a super-hi-fi electron microscope, maybe we can use them in the electron guns of TV's and create super Xtreme HD! I for one welcome our potentially ever-changing HD format overlords.
  • I remember watching a documentary on Discovery or History about the technique of chipping the edges on weapons and tools created molecule sharp blades.

    they didn't need all that research and science, just a couple rocks! ;)
  • But HOW Sharp?? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by bigtimepie (947401)
    Can it penetrate virtually any material? Does it dull after use? Will it be publicly available?
  • ... it won't so much roll off the tongue as slice right through it.
  • How is saying that something which is not the sharpest object ever made is 'sharp as a single atom tip formed by chemically assisted spatially controlled field evaporation' in any way "accurate"? I'd wager that the sharpness of whatever you're comparing is a lot closer to the sharpness of a tack than it is to a single atom tip.
  • by cHALiTO (101461) <elchalo AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:05AM (#15705498) Homepage
    Cool! now I can get myself a monokatana!!
  • Bread (Score:2, Funny)

    by certel (849946)
    Does it still squish the bread?!
  • ...I don't want to hear about it. Mind that expect that sharp a razor to come with safety wires, cause I'm not going to be able to fork out for skin transplants after Gillette charges me, what, three million dollars for this sort of thing by the time it hits the market.
  • by bicho (144895)
    ... Does it cut?
  • by teknopagan (912839) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [jyddadgib]> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:13AM (#15705568)
    That's not a knife...
  • Picture! (Score:5, Funny)

    by the_mind_ (157933) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:15AM (#15705581)
    Here is a picture.
    5M x amplification

            .

  • by florescent_beige (608235) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:25AM (#15705665) Journal
    The STM [nobelprize.org] uses a stylus with a single-atom tip and is about a decade old. IIRC it's a carbon atom.
    • by Jandar0 (594961) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @12:06PM (#15706375) Homepage
      Actually the Scanning Tunneling Microscope does not demand a single-atom tip (in the sense considered here). Rather, a reasonably sharp apex will have one atom which is slightly closer to the surface than its neighbors from which most of the electron tunneling takes place. A tip with a radius of curvature less than, say, 100 nanometers is generally sufficient for most STM usage. Problems can arise when the tip has multiple protrusions which are a roughly equal distance from the surface, especially when scanning larger surface features such as carbon nanotubes (as compared to an atomically flat surface).

      That said, better tips mean better images, especially with larger surface features, and also lower field emission voltages, which means applications in electron microscopy and even flat-panel display technology.

      That said, I've make single-atom tips (of the sort discussed in this article) in the lab on a regular basis over the past several years with an ion sputtering-based process, a technique that is not limited to tungsten (tungsten is hard, but oxidizes, meaning the tip will not withstand removal from an ultra-high vacuum environment). This is a very interesting technique, but claiming it to be the sharpest object ever made is certainly overstating the achievement.
  • Super thin. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Soygen (911358) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:25AM (#15705672)
    It's the greatest thing since atomically-thin sliced bread.
  • But... (Score:3, Funny)

    by NickeB (763713) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:29AM (#15705703)
    Can it cut through armor and still slice a tomato?
  • by Doomedsnowball (921841) <doomedsnowballs@yahoo.com> on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:32AM (#15705726)
    From TFA: These sharp tips are needed for making contact with metals or semiconductors as well as for the manipulation and examination of atoms, molecules and small particles. Ultrafine tips are demanded for future experiments where the results are directly dependent on shape of the tip.

    This is HUGE news in the nano scanning tunnel microscope world! Combined with the ability to determine an electrons spin, this could really open up new research results in a lot of fields. Good to see so many comedians on /. Lotta sharp wits.
  • *waves it around*

    *drops it on desk*

    Ah crap, anyone got a spare one.... ;-]

    Jaj
  • <Blackadder>That would be my wit.</Blackadder>
  • by WheresMyDingo (659258) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:42AM (#15705797)
    "sharp as SOAP" where SOAP is Sharpest Object At Present. Then even if something sharper comes along, you don't have to change your phrase, because it is so highly abstracted from the hardware that it hardly means anything anymore.
  • by Anne_Nonymous (313852) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @10:43AM (#15705807) Homepage Journal
    The dullest object ever made is being kept safe in the Oval Office.
  • I remember vividly of an IBM project where they created the sharpest object with an atom tip, and they didnt even have to coat it in nitrogen.

    Posted on slashdot about a year ago. Its a dupe at the U of Alberta. Wake me when they use a Hydrogen atom at the tip, with an accentuated electron orbit which adds a sharper 'tip'.
  • Does anybody else find those little pop-up ads that appear when you hover over the green double-underlined text to be about the shittest invention ever?

    Those in the article seem to be from someone called ContentLink, but I've also seen them done by IntelliTXT. Their idea of context is usually so wrong as to be laughable. For example, in that article, the sentence "Technically speaking, they were able to coat peripheral atoms near the peak with nitrogen, making it a one atom-thick, tough protective paint job
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @11:19AM (#15706074) Homepage

    The business end of a scanning tunneling microscope is often a one-atom tip. Those are made by cutting a wire of some suitable metal (tungsten, or platinum/iridium), hoping to get a sharp tip. Such tips look like this [purdue.edu]. As you can see, sometimes the break gives you a very sharp one-atom point, but the area around it is ragged.

    The technology for making these tips is embarassingly simple. [nanoscience.com]

    Electrochemical etching is used to make better-formed STM tips. [unt.edu] Electrochemical etching with STM feedback to determine when the best form has been reached does even better.

  • ...when they devise something that's sharper than the tongue of an angry woman.

    And when they do, I want to be somewhere far, far away.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @11:34AM (#15706177) Homepage Journal
    When a master sharpens a katana to the best standards of the art, the last step involves a polishing compound so fine that it has to be kept in water so it doesn't fall apart, and the edge is so thin you can see through the metal. (Yes, this process costs as much as a computer).

    Googlespace, on my first few searches, didn't turn up any numbers for the edge of a katana. It's bound to be a long way from a single atom, but it would be fun to know just how close or far it is.
  • Nice cut 'n paste summary of the article.
  • by NotQuiteReal (608241) on Wednesday July 12, 2006 @11:42AM (#15706230) Journal
    What's the dullest object ever made?
  • When cooking it is necessary to have the sharpest knives you can because this (counter-intuitively) is actually safer.

    IF you had a knife with a single atom edge, how long would that last, and how would you re-sharpen it?

    I started thinking about this in regards to cooking but for any application how would you keep this sharp?

    1 atom? wouldn't that be sheared off during the first use?

    I would assume a pyramid form, 1 atom supported by 2 or 3 underneath it and those supported by 6 and so on, even up to 5000 atom
  • I've heard that when things like obsidian and glass break (or are chipped away, as in the creation of arrowheads) that the edge can be a single atom wide. (Or, I guess, molecule.) Quoth Wikipeida [wikipedia.org]:

    "Obsidian is currently used in cardiac surgery, as well-crafted obsidian blades have a cutting edge much sharper than high-quality steel surgical scalpels and may even be up to five times sharper, the edge of the blade reaching veritable molecular thinness."

    I wonder how close 'veritable' is to 'actual'?

  • Cuz I was kinda thinking it was gonna be a tie between a Ferrari 365 GTS/4 Daytona Spyder and Morris Day.
  • Its all fun and games until someone puts a Planaria's eye out!
  • Introducing the new Ginzu 3000 with literally atomic cutting precision for your next dinner!
  • Everyone knows the sharpest thing in the world is a Mother-in-Law's tongue.
  • Now, thanks to new University of Alberta research, the popular expression might become, 'sharp as a single atom tip formed by chemically assisted spatially controlled field evaporation.'

    I can't imagine ever meeting anyone smart enough to warrant memorizing such a phrase.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.

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