With the help of ultrafast lasers, Dutch researcher Anouk Wetzels from the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics has visualised the wave function of slow electrons. The wave function describes how the electron moves around the nucleus of an atom. With this it is possible to directly visualise atomic and even molecular wave functions.
Wetzels used light pulses with a duration of a millionth of a millionth of a second to visualise the wave function of electrons in atoms. With these rapid pulses the physicist specifically kicked electrons out of an atom. A special technique called velocity map imaging was then used to visualise the speed distribution of the electrons. This resulted in a direct measurement of the wave function of an electron in a Rydberg atom.
In Rydberg atoms the outermost electron is so slow that the orbiting time is longer than the duration of an ultrafast light pulse. As a result of this, the interaction between the pulse, which consists of just half a wavelength, and the electron can be seen as a ’kick’. The result of the kick depends on the location and speed of the electron in its orbit around the nucleus. By kicking the electron in the direction of the detector, the speeds of the electrons perpendicular to the detector remain unchanged.
Nalinie Moerlie | EurekAlert!
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