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Ultrafast lasers give CU-Boulder researchers a snapshot of electrons in action
Date:10/30/2008

cule changes its shape, according to Kapteyn.

"This is a fundamentally new way of looking at molecules," Kapteyn said. "This process allowed us to freeze the motion of electrons in a system, and to capture their dizzying dance."

The researchers describe their process of stretching the N2O4 molecule as being similar to pulling on a Slinky toy and then letting it go and watching it vibrate. They used the N2O4 molecule because it vibrates more slowly compared to other molecules, allowing them to observe the physical processes under way.

In many ways, molecules are like tiny masses connected by tiny springs of differing strengths, Murnane said. These springs are the chemical bonds, made up of shared electrons, which hold all matter together. In this experiment they used ultrafast laser pulses to "twang" these springs, making the nanoscale molecular Slinkies vibrate. However, unlike real springs, when researchers vibrate the molecules their properties can change, she said.

Being able to watch and understand why the electrons did what they did is very useful in fields like alternative energy, according to the researchers.

"If we understand the nature of these processes, in the future we can then translate that knowledge into better technology, such as creating more efficient light-harvesting molecules or catalysis or perhaps even solar cells," Stolow said.


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Contact: Margaret Murnane
margaret.murnane@colorado.edu
303-492-7839
University of Colorado at Boulder
Source:Eurekalert

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