Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

For the First Time Ever, Scientists Watch an Atom’s Electrons Moving in Real Time

05.08.2010
An international team of scientists led by groups from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) in Garching, Germany, and from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California at Berkeley has used ultrashort flashes of laser light to directly observe the movement of an atom’s outer electrons for the first time.

Through a process called attosecond absorption spectroscopy, researchers were able to time the oscillations between simultaneously produced quantum states of valence electrons with great precision. These oscillations drive electron motion.

“With a simple system of krypton atoms, we demonstrated, for the first time, that we can measure transient absorption dynamics with attosecond pulses,” says Stephen Leone of Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, who is also a professor of chemistry and physics at UC Berkeley. “This revealed details of a type of electronic motion – coherent superposition – that can control properties in many systems.”

Leone cites recent work by the Graham Fleming group at Berkeley on the crucial role of coherent dynamics in photosynthesis as an example of its importance, noting that “the method developed by our team for exploring coherent dynamics has never before been available to researchers. It’s truly general and can be applied to attosecond electronic dynamics problems in the physics and chemistry of liquids, solids, biological systems, everything.”

The team’s demonstration of attosecond absorption spectroscopy began by first ionizing krypton atoms, removing one or more outer valence electrons with pulses of near-infrared laser light that were typically measured on timescales of a few femtoseconds (a femtosecond is 10-15 second, a quadrillionth of a second). Then, with far shorter pulses of extreme ultraviolet light on the 100-attosecond timescale (an attosecond is 10-18 second, a quintillionth of a second), they were able to precisely measure the effects on the valence electron orbitals.

The results of the pioneering measurements performed at MPQ by the Leone and Krausz groups and their colleagues are reported in the August 5 issue of the journal Nature.

Parsing the fine points of valence electron motion

Valence electrons control how atoms bond with other atoms to form molecules or crystal structures, and how these bonds break and reform during chemical reactions. Changes in molecular structures occur on the scale of many femtoseconds and have often been observed with femtosecond spectroscopy, in which both Leone and Krausz are pioneers.

Zhi-Heng Loh of Leone’s group at Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley worked with Eleftherios Goulielmakis of Krausz’s group to perform the experiments at MPQ. By firing a femtosecond pulse of infrared laser light through a chamber filled with krypton gas, atoms in the path of the beam were ionized by the loss of from one to three valence electrons from their outermost shells.

The experimenters separately generated extreme-ultraviolet attosecond pulses (using the technique called “high harmonic generation”) and sent the beam of attosecond probe pulses through the krypton gas on the same path as the near-infrared pump pulses.

By varying the time delay between the pump pulse and the probe pulse, the researchers found that subsequent states of increasing ionization were being produced at regular intervals, which turned out to be approximately equal to the time for a half cycle of the pump pulse. (The pulse is only a few cycles long; the time from crest to crest is a full cycle, and from crest to trough is a half cycle.)

“The femtosecond pulse produces a strong electromagnetic field, and ionization takes place with every half cycle of the pulse,” Leone says. “Therefore little bursts of ions are coming out every half cycle.”

Although expected from theory, these isolated bursts were not resolved in the experiment. The attosecond pulses, however, could precisely measure the production of the ionization, because ionization – the removal of one or more electrons – leaves gaps or “holes,” unfilled orbitals that the ultrashort pulses can probe.

The attosecond pulses do so by exciting electrons from lower energy orbitals to fill the gap in krypton’s outermost orbital – a direct result of the absorption of the transient attosecond pulses by the atoms. After the “long” femtosecond pump pulse liberates an electron from outermost orbital (designated 4p), the short probe pulse boosts an electron from an inner orbital (designated 3d), leaving behind a hole in that orbital while sensing the dynamics of the outermost orbital.

In singly charged krypton ions, two electronic states are formed. A wave-packet of electronic motion is observed between these two states, indicating that the ionization process forms the two states in what’s known as quantum coherence.

Says Leone, “There is a continual ‘orbital flopping’ between the two states, which interfere with each other. A high degree of interference is called coherence.” Thus when the attosecond probe pulse clocks the outer valence orbitals, it is really clocking the high degree of coherence in the orbital motion caused by ionization.

Indispensable attosecond pulses

“When the bursts of ions are made quickly enough, with just a few cycles of the ionization pulse, we observe a high degree of coherence,” Leone says. “Theoretically, however, with longer ionization pulses the production of the ions gets out of phase with the period of the electron wave-packet motion, as our work showed.”

So after just a few cycles of the pump pulse, the coherence is washed out. Thus, says Leone, “Without very short, attosecond-scale probe pulses, we could not have measured the degree of coherence that resulted from ionization.”

The physical demonstration of attosecond transient absorption by the combined efforts of the Leone and Krausz groups and their colleagues will, in Leone’s words, “allow us to unravel processes within and among atoms, molecules, and crystals on the electronic timescale” – processes that previously could only be hinted at with studies on the comparatively languorous femtosecond timescale.

“Real-time observation of valence electron motion,” by Eleftherios Goulielmakis, Zhi-Heng Loh, Adrian Wirth, Robin Santra, Nina Rohringer, Vladislav Yakovlev, Sergey Zherebtsov, Thomas Pfeifer, Abdallah Azzeer, Matthias Kling, Stephen Leone, and Ferenc Krausz, appears in the 5 August 2010 issue of the journal Nature. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society, King Saud University, and the Munich Center for Advanced Photonics. Stephen Leone’s group is supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the National Science Foundation, and U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. Theoretical modeling was led by Robin Santra, who is supported by DOE’s Office of Science.

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provides solutions to the world’s most urgent scientific challenges including clean energy, climate change, human health, novel materials, and a better understanding of matter and force in the universe. It is a world leader in improving our lives and knowledge of the world around us through innovative science, advanced computing, and technology that makes a difference. Berkeley Lab is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory managed by the University of California for the DOE Office of Science.

Paul Preuss | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.lbl.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth
17.11.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Pluto's hydrocarbon haze keeps dwarf planet colder than expected
16.11.2017 | University of California - Santa Cruz

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: A “cosmic snake” reveals the structure of remote galaxies

The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.

Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...

Im Focus: Visual intelligence is not the same as IQ

Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.

That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...

Im Focus: Novel Nano-CT device creates high-resolution 3D-X-rays of tiny velvet worm legs

Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.

During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....

Im Focus: Researchers Develop Data Bus for Quantum Computer

The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.

Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...

Im Focus: Wrinkles give heat a jolt in pillared graphene

Rice University researchers test 3-D carbon nanostructures' thermal transport abilities

Pillared graphene would transfer heat better if the theoretical material had a few asymmetric junctions that caused wrinkles, according to Rice University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Ecology Across Borders: International conference brings together 1,500 ecologists

15.11.2017 | Event News

Road into laboratory: Users discuss biaxial fatigue-testing for car and truck wheel

15.11.2017 | Event News

#Berlin5GWeek: The right network for Industry 4.0

30.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA detects solar flare pulses at Sun and Earth

17.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

NIST scientists discover how to switch liver cancer cell growth from 2-D to 3-D structures

17.11.2017 | Health and Medicine

The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change

17.11.2017 | Studies and Analyses

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>