field ion microscopy

The Illusion of Reality

In 1999, a movie came out which blew everyone’s mind, and still twists our brains today : the Matrix. It described a future where reality is an illusion, a computer-simulated universe in which we thrive. Solipsism with guns in a post-apocalyptic world. But what if I told you… they’re right ? In fact that’s not true, they’re probably completely mistaken. Reality is not a computer-generated dream. Reality is empty. Well… 99,99% empty.

Science basics, matter is made of atoms. Atoms are themselves made of a cloud of electrons orbiting a dense nucleus of protons and neutrons. Separating electrons and the nucleus is just air. Not even air, since air is composed of molecules. This is why I can say that atoms are mostly empty, and therefore matter is mostly empty. We’ve known this for a very long time. Most of us would just give up and say “matter is nothing, so why bother ?”. Most of us, but not scientists. Scientists have twisted and mangled these teensy balls of nothing. They stripped these minuscule objects apart and threw the remains into a 27 kilometers collider to blow them up. They’ve invented machines and probes to witness matter in its very extreme intimacy. In 1951 they invented the Field Ion Microscope and they’ve taken pictures… of individual atoms. Repelled ions looking like clusters of stars or ripples into the nothingness.

So, why bother ? That’s why. Matter is almost empty. But we were here, and we took pictures to prove it.

Picture : Examples of field ion micrographs of (a) iridium, (b) a Pd40Ni40P20 bulk metallic glass, © a decorated grain boundary in a neutron-irradiated pressure vessel steel, and (d) 5nm-diameter secondary precipitates in the nickel-based superalloy Alloy 718

M.K. Miller (2000) The Development of Atom Probe Field-Ion Microscopy, Materials Characterization (44):1-2 11-27

Agathe of Frontal Cortex