COLUMBUS, Ohio Using a new ultrafast camera, researchers have recorded the first real-time image of two atoms vibrating in a molecule.
Key to the experiment, which appears in this week's issue of the journal Nature, is the researchers' use of the energy of a molecule's own electron as a kind of "flash bulb" to illuminate the molecular motion.
The team used ultrafast laser pulses to knock one electron out of its natural orbit in a molecule. The electron then fell back toward the molecule scattered off of it, analogous to the way a flash of light scatters around an object, or a water ripple scatters in a pond.
Principal investigator Louis DiMauro of Ohio State University said that the feat marks a first step toward not only observing chemical reactions, but also controlling them on an atomic scale.
"Through these experiments, we realized that we can control the quantum trajectory of the electron when it comes back to the molecule, by adjusting the laser that launches it," said DiMauro, who is a professor of physics at Ohio State. "The next step will be to see if we can steer the electron in just the right way to actually control a chemical reaction."
A standard technique for imaging a still object involves shooting the object with an electron beam bombarding it with millions of electrons per second. The researchers' new single-electron quantum approach allowed them to image rapid molecular motion, based on theoretical developments by the paper's coauthors at Kansas State University.
A technique called laser induced electron diffraction (LIED) is commonly used in surface science to study solid materials. Here, the researchers used it to study the movement of atoms in a single molecule.
The molecules they chose to study were simple ones: nitrogen, or N2, and oxygen, or O2. N2 and O2 are common atmospheric gases, and scientists already know every detail of their structure, so these two very basic m
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Ohio State University