Harald Rose

Harald Rose (*1935)

Harald Rose. Image: Universität Ulm
Harald Rose. Image: Universität Ulm

For decades, atoms were shrouded in an almost mystical aura. Well into the 1980s, nobody had ever seen one with the naked eye. No microscope was powerful enough to make the unimaginably tiny components of matter visible. Many physicists tried in vain to improve the image sharpness of electron microscopes to the point where they could show atoms. Others did not even deem it possible.

At the end of the 1980s, in a stroke of genius, Darmstadt physicist Harald Rose succeeded in rendering atoms visible by fitting electron microscopes with “spectacles” which redirected the errant electron beams that blurred the image.

With his colleagues Maximilian Heider and Knut Urban, Rose put his concept into practice. In 2011 the three of them were awarded the Wolf Prize, an award that enjoys the same prestige amongst physicists as the Nobel Prize. Nowadays, researchers can purchase the bespectacled electron microscopes and view the now quite demystified atoms.