Viewing minerals, atom by atom



With state-of-the-art technology supported by scissors and bungy cords, Earth scientists are beginning to look at mineral surfaces and mineral-fluid interactions on an atomic scale.

The instrument that can provide such a detailed view is the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), which made a great theoretical and practical splash when it was introduced in 1981 by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, physicists at IBM's laboratory in Zurich. They won a Nobel Prize in Physics for their work 5 years later.