Atom Tractor Beam simulation game

Materials are defined by their chemical structure – the arrangement of atoms. To control the material properties, one can either rearrange or replace the atoms. My team at the Faculty of Physics of the University of Vienna uses an electron beam in a scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) to manipulate strongly bound materials with atomic precision, opening new possibilities for nanotechnology.

Because the instruments used are fully computerized, it’s possible to show how we use them. This allows for compelling and largely realistic presentations of the most recent research in materials science. With the support of the Vienna Business Agency, we commissioned a simulation game for the Vienna Technical Museum special exhibition called “The Future of Work and Production”, which was opened on 15 November, 2018.

By working with the museum’s experts, it was possible to convey a cutting-edge current research project to a broader public. Despite the complexity of the matter, the integration of the simulation game into the exhibition was very successful, and the research project is centrally featured in the exhibition. Visitors are thus provided with a realistic insight into the questions and methods of state-of-the-art materials research and, with the help of the simulation game presented in the exhibition, they even have the opportunity to slip into the role of scientists themselves.

To reach an even larger audience, we’ve now launched a website with the same content, including a browser-based version of the simulation game we call "Atom Tractor Beam". The name is inspired by the science fiction concept of an attractive beam of energy popularized by Star Trek. The name is appropriate since the silicon impurities move to the location where the cursor is pointed, as if attracted by the electron beam.

This game is now released online, try it out for yourself!