What you’re looking at is the first direct observation of an atom’s electron orbital — an atom’s actual wave function! To capture the image, researchers utilized a new quantum microscope — an incredible new device that literally allows scientists to gaze into the quantum realm.
This new quantum microscope is going to be a significant tool for discovery and enlightenment… I can just feel it!
It is not a photograph, in reality, it’s not an actual picture of an atom. What it is is a composite of millions of experimental results, as normally a wave function will collapse leaving only the electron… this shows the cumulative tracks the electrons take… and of course it is in just to dimensions.
See the links above for the details (it’s not long) but basically…
The researchers finally twigged how to make an image of it by bouncing other electrons off the field millions of times, eventually building up a suitable image using the accumulated data.
After zapping the atom with laser pulses, ionized electrons escaped and followed a particular trajectory to a 2D detector (a dual microchannel plate [MCP] detector placed perpendicular to the field itself). There are many trajectories that can be taken by the electrons to reach the same point on the detector, thus providing the researchers with a set of interference patterns — patterns that reflected the nodal structure of the wave function.
Go science! Quantum Microscopy!