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Spotlight: Addressing the Minuscule Measuring Needs of the Nanotechnology Community

Three brightly colorized micrographs of small objects.
Credit: R. Attota/NIST

A tooth? An angel? A strong man? Instead of seeing patterns in clouds, our scientists go to the microscope! NIST’s Ravi Attota uses a simple optical microscope and a technique called through-focus scanning optical microscopy to measure the dimensions of things at the nanoscale. Instead of trying to get one photo that’s clear and crisp, we take multiple blurry images, each at a different focus, to build a 3D view of the tiny objects.

From the minuscule trenches etched into microchips to a single nanoparticle resting on a silicon plate, scientists at NIST’s NanoFab facility as well as leaders in industry elsewhere send lots of items to Ravi and his team for measurement. The outcome might look out of this world, but the precision behind it is necessary for the technology and scientific advances all around us.

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Released February 21, 2020, Updated April 15, 2021