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WATCH: The World's Smallest Movie, Starring ... Atoms

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By Harold Maass

Hollywood loves to go big with movies. IBM scientists went small — very small. The company's researchers produced a short, stop-motion film to showcase their efforts to design the next generation of data storage, and they did it by manipulating individual atoms to create images of a boy playing with a ball and bouncing on a trampoline. The clip, called A Boy and His Atom, has been certified by Guinness World Records as the "Smallest Stop-Motion Film" ever. 

The scientists used a tiny needle on the tip of a two-ton scanning tunneling microscope, manipulated remotely by computer, to move carbon monoxide molecules around on a copper plate chilled to 450 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. The frigid temperature "makes life simpler for us," says Andreas Heinrich, IBM's principal scientist for the project. "The atoms hold still. They would move around on their own at room temperature." Each frame involves an area measuring 45 by 25 nanometers (there are 25 million nanometers per inch), but the microscope magnifies the scene over 100 million times.

"This movie is a fun way to share the atomic-scale world," Heinrich says. "The reason we made this was not to convey a scientific message directly, but to engage with students, to prompt them to ask questions." But that's just part of the reasoning. The techniques used to make the movie are similar to those IBM is working on to make data storage smaller as the world's digital archives expand. "As data creation and consumption continue to get bigger," Heinrich says, "data storage needs to get smaller, all the way down to the atomic level."

That sounds logical for computing, but how does this clip stand up as a film? The result is "the worst animated movie I've ever seen," jokes Richi Jennings at Computerworld. "Terrible production values, laughable plot, and awful soundtrack." It's mercifully short, but — sorry, IBM — "two thumbs down." But perhaps reviewers should cut the "IBM eggheads" behind this tiny flick some slack, says Mark Hearn at Engadget. They're just using "a playful spin on microcomputing" to show off the possibilities of thinking small, and in that, they succeeded. "Now that the atom's gone Hollywood, what's next, a molecular entourage?"

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

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ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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