Study points way toward 'filming' molecule-light interactions

September 8, 2015 by Scott Schrage, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
From left, doctoral students Joshua Beck and Jie Yang pose alongside associate professors of physics and astronomy Martin Centurion and Cornelis "Kees" Uiterwaal. Centurion and his team have demonstrated a technique for capturing a "frame" of molecular reactions, a significant step toward creating 3-D movies of them. Credit: Craig Chandler/University Communications

A new study from UNL physicists could inform the future production of 3-D movies starring light-driven molecular reactions that already play leading roles in photosynthesis, vision and many state-of-the-art technologies.

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study examined how gas-suspended of carbon disulfide responded when struck by that varied in duration and intensity.

Using a technique they pioneered in 2012, the researchers analyzed these molecular responses by firing electrons at the molecules immediately following a laser pulse impact. The post-collision scattering of these electrons was captured on a luminescent screen and sent to a specialized digital camera.

With the assistance of algorithms, these scattering patterns provided information about which laser pulses managed to rotate the molecules, lengthen or break their atomic bonds, and eject the molecules' own electrons from their atomic orbits.

The researchers determined the minimum laser intensity needed to align randomly oriented molecules in the same direction, which narrows the range of scattering patterns enough to average them into an accurate snapshot of a molecule.

The team further measured the intensity at which a laser begins exciting the molecules—a phenomenon that pushes their electrons to higher energy levels and can begin distorting or even destroying molecular configurations. By comparing molecules subjected to different laser pulses, the team was able to retrieve and illustrate the dynamics produced by this excitation.

"When a molecule absorbs light, what follows is a change in the structure that then changes the chemical properties and other qualities of the molecule," said lead author Martin Centurion, associate professor of physics and astronomy. "So you want to want to look not only at the structure, but also how that structure changes on fast time-scales. This new experiment—in addition to (offering insights into) the physics—shows that we can image a transient state.

"The end goal is to make movies of these reactions. We're not there yet, but what we've done is capture one frame of that movie."

In reporting the respective thresholds for molecular alignment, excitation and electron ejection, or ionization, the study should also help physicists ascertain whether observed molecular structures reflect natural or light-altered states.

"You might compare it to a case where you have something delicate and want to pick it up so that you can look at it," said co-author Cornelis "Kees" Uiterwaal, associate professor of physics and astronomy. "If you take a pair of pliers and use too much force, by the time you have it in front of you, you've ruined it. But you'd like to have a strong (enough) tool that the molecule won't go all over the place and you won't be able to see it. Martin's expertise is to look at molecules that are held securely with a delicate tool."

As Centurion continues the quest to "film" molecular reactions using this tool, Uiterwaal is examining what happens when the figurative pliers clamp down hard enough to crack a molecule. The team's technique is allowing Uiterwaal and his colleagues to examine these outcomes much more easily than would be possible by relying solely on theoretical principles, he said.

"There are millions of that have been reported, which in itself is like collecting stamps," Uiterwaal said. "You wouldn't necessarily find a pattern among them, so what we do is try to identify certain sequences of molecules that are roughly the same but all differ in one specific respect. We can try this one, then the next one, then the next one … and hope to discover a pattern that we then ascribe to just that little difference."

Explore further: Steering chemical reactions with laser pulses

More information: "Imaging of alignment and structural changes of carbon disulfide molecules using ultrafast electron diffraction." Nature Communications 6, Article number: 8172 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms9172

Related Stories

Steering chemical reactions with laser pulses

April 23, 2014

With ultra-short laser pulses, chemical reactions can be controlled at the Vienna University of Technology. Electrons have little mass and are therefore influenced by the laser, whereas the atomic nuclei are much heavier ...

Ultra-short laser pulses control chemical processes

December 12, 2012

Specially shaped laser pulses can be used to change the state of electrons in a molecule. This process only takes several attoseconds—but it can initiate another, much slower process: The splitting of the molecule into ...

Researchers build molecules using a laser beam

July 7, 2015

(Phys.org)—A combined team of researchers from Israel's Hebrew University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Germany's Universität Kassel has succeeded in demonstrating coherent control of bond-forming between ...

Recommended for you

Researchers capture an image of negative capacitance in action

January 21, 2019

For the first time ever, an international team of researchers imaged the microscopic state of negative capacitance. This novel result provides researchers with fundamental, atomistic insight into the physics of negative capacitance, ...

Toward ultrafast spintronics

January 21, 2019

Electronics have advanced through continuous improvements in microprocessor technology since the 1960s. However, this process of refinement is projected to stall in the near future due to constraints imposed by the laws of ...

New thermoelectric material delivers record performance

January 17, 2019

Taking advantage of recent advances in using theoretical calculations to predict the properties of new materials, researchers reported Thursday the discovery of a new class of half-Heusler thermoelectric compounds, including ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

docile
Sep 09, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.