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Delayed time zero in photoemission
Date:6/24/2010

This release is available in German.

When light is absorbed by atoms, the electrons become excited. If the light particles, so-called photons, carry sufficient energy, the electrons can be ejected from the atom. This effect is known as photoemission and was explained by Einstein more than hundred years ago. Until now, it has been assumed that the electron start moving out of the atom immediately after the impact of the photon. This point in time can be detected and has so far been considered as coincident with the arrival time of the light pulse, i.e. with "time zero" in the interaction of light with matter.

Using their ultra-short time measurement technology, physicists from the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ), the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) and the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Munich (LMU) along with collaborators from Austria, Greece, and Saudi Arabia, have now tested this assumption.

The physicists fired pulses of near-infrared laser light lasting less than four femtoseconds (10-15 seconds) at atoms of the noble gas neon. The atoms were simultaneously hit by extreme ultraviolet pulses with a duration of 180 attoseconds, liberating electrons from their atomic orbitals. The attosecond flashes ejected electrons either from the outer 2p-orbitals or from the inner 2s-orbitals of the atom. With the controlled field of the synchronised laser pulse serving as an "attosecond chronograph", the physicists then recorded when the excited electrons left the atom.

Their measurements revealed that electrons from different atomic orbitals, although excited simultaneously, leave the atom with a small but measurable time delay of about twenty attoseconds. "One attosecond is one billionth of one billionth of a second, an unimaginable short interval of time. But after excitation by
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Contact: Dr. Andreas Battenberg
battenberg@zv.tum.de
49-892-891-0510
Technische Universitaet Muenchen
Source:Eurekalert  

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