Nowadays, large laser systems provide ultra-short light pulses of very high intensity which – in principle – allow the imaging of matter and its dynamics on atomic scales, down to a single molecule or a virus.
Fig.: (left): ‘crystal’ of fluorescing ions. The lattice site occupied by the molecule (white circle) remains dark. (right): the probability of dissociation is modulated with a period of 30 femtoseconds.
Foto and Graphics: MPQ
However, current methods fall short in efficiency to overlap a target molecule in a deterministic way. Physicists around Prof. Tobias Schätz (Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Universität Freiburg) have now found a possible way out. Using the well proven concept of ion traps they store a single molecule at a precisely known position and then hit it in a deterministic way with single laser pulses that are provided by the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics at MPQ (Nature Physics, AOP, 5 February 2012, DOI 10.1038/NPHYS2214).
Though still restricted to pulses in the UV range this method makes it possible to resolve the internal dynamics of a single molecular ion consisting of a magnesium ion and a hydrogen atom. “However, this scheme could become a standard technique for investigating large biomolecules, if X-ray laser pulses can be applied”, Tobias Schätz points out.
Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng | Max-Planck-Institut
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