The atomic hypothesis – that the universe consists of innumerable tiny particles in ceaseless motion – traces its roots to Greek antiquity, but until recently individual atoms remained theoretical conceptions far removed from the senses. Now technology has reached down into the abstract realm of the atom, and made it accessible to our eyes and fingertips. We have learned to catch, photograph, touch, and even modify atoms one by one. Thus, for the first time since the philosopher Democritus imagined it more than two thousand years ago, the atomic landscape has been revealed in lavish beauty, as in the cover illustration from the scanning tunneling micrograph shown below, which depicts a baker’s dozen of iodine atoms bonded together in six-fold symmetry, with a gaping hole glowing yellow where one of their number is missing.
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