Making the shortest light bursts leads to better understanding of nature

Jun 29, 2012

An attosecond is a ridiculously brief sliver of time – a scant billionth of a billionth of a second. This may seem too short to have any practical applications, but at the atomic level, where electrons zip and jump about, these vanishingly short timescales are crucial to a deeper understanding of science.

In a paper accepted for publication in the American Institute of Physics' journal Review of Scientific Instruments, a team of researchers describes an advanced experimental system that can generate attosecond bursts of extreme ultraviolet light. Such pulses are the shortest controllable light pulses available to science. With these pulses, according to the researchers, it's possible to measure the dynamics of electrons in matter in real-time. Advances in attosecond science may enable scientists to verify theories that describe how matter behaves at a fundamental level, how certain important chemical reactions – such as photosynthesis – work. Additional advances may eventually lead to the control of chemical reactions.

"Understanding how matter works at the level of its electrons is likely to lead to new scientific tools and to novel technologies," said Felix Frank, of Imperial College in London and one of the authors on the paper. "In the future, this knowledge could help us to make better drugs, more efficient solar cells, and other things we can't yet foresee."

The researchers were able to produce these pulses by a process called high harmonic generation (HHG). The fundamental technology driving their setup is a high-power femtosecond laser system (femtoseconds are three orders of magnitude longer than attoseconds). The near infrared femtosecond laser pulses are corralled through a waveguide and a series of specialized mirrors, causing them to be compressed in time. With their waveforms precisely controlled, these compressed pulses are then focused into a gas target, creating an attosecond burst of extreme ultraviolet radiation. The experimental system developed by the researchers is able to accurately measure the pulses and deliver them to a variety of experiments in conjugation with other precisely synchronized laser pulses. "Though it incorporates many novel features, our system builds on a decade of research conducted by physics groups around the world," said John Tisch, lead scientist developing the technology at Imperial College.

Explore further: IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

Related Stories

Flashes of light out of the mirror

Jun 12, 2012

(Phys.org) -- A team of the Laboratory of Attosecond physics at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics developed an alternative way of generating attosecond flashes of light. 

Recommended for you

IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

2 hours ago

Who will lay claim to having the world's largest particle smasher?. Could China become the collider capital of the world? Questions tease answers, following a news story in Nature on Tuesday. Proposals for ...

The physics of lead guitar playing

4 hours ago

String bends, tapping, vibrato and whammy bars are all techniques that add to the distinctiveness of a lead guitarist's sound, whether it's Clapton, Hendrix, or BB King.

The birth of topological spintronics

5 hours ago

The discovery of a new material combination that could lead to a more efficient approach to computer memory and logic will be described in the journal Nature on July 24, 2014. The research, led by Penn S ...

The electric slide dance of DNA knots

8 hours ago

DNA has the nasty habit of getting tangled and forming knots. Scientists study these knots to understand their function and learn how to disentangle them (e.g. useful for gene sequencing techniques). Cristian ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

chardo137
1 / 5 (1) Jun 29, 2012
I guess this makes the answer that Sheldon Cooper gave during the Physics Bowl on The Big Bang Theory out of date.
kochevnik
not rated yet Jun 30, 2012
"in conjugation"? Are they making spatula lasers?