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A new world record for short-term measurements when physicists track the propagation of light within a molecule

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Zeptosecond measurement

Photons (yellow, coming from the left) generate electron waves from the electron cloud (gray) of hydrogen molecules (red: nucleus) and interfere with each other (interference pattern: purple-white). The interference pattern is slightly tilted to the right, allowing you to calculate the length of photons needed to reach one atom to the next.Credits: Sven Grundmann, Goethe University Frankfurt

Physicists in Frankfurt, Hamburg, and Berlin track the propagation of light within a molecule.

Physicists at the University of Goethe in Frankfurt took the lead in the global competition to measure shorter and shorter periods: with colleagues at the accelerator facility. DESY At the Fritz Haber Institute of Technology in Hamburg and Berlin, they first measured a process within the zeptosecond region, the propagation of light within a molecule. Zeptosecond is one billionth of a second (10)-twenty one Seconds).

In 1999, Egyptian chemist Ahmed Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize for measuring the rate at which the shape of a molecule changes. He established femtosecond chemistry using an ultra-short laser flash. The formation and breaking of chemical bonds occurs in the femtosecond region.Femtoseconds are 0.000000000000001 seconds, or 10-15 Seconds.

Today, Atomic Physicists at Goethe University, Professor Rainhard Delner’s team, have for the first time studied a process smaller than femtoseconds. They measured the time it takes for a photon to pass through a hydrogen molecule. The average bond length of the molecule is about 247 zeptoseconds. This is the shortest period ever successfully measured.

Scientists timed the X-ray-irradiated hydrogen molecules (H2) from the Synchrotron light source PETRA III at the Hamburg Accelerator Center DESY. Researchers have set the energy of the X-rays so that one photon is sufficient to emit both electrons from the hydrogen molecule.

Electrons behave like particles and waves at the same time, so when the first electron is emitted, the electron wave is emitted to the first hydrogen molecule and then to the second hydrogen molecule. atom The waves merge and quickly and continuously.

The photons here act like flat pebbles skimming water twice. When the valley of the waves meets the top of the wave, the first and second waves of water contact cancel each other out, creating a so-called interference pattern.

Scientists used the COLTRIMS reaction microscope, a device supported by Dörner to visualize the ultrafast reaction processes of atoms and molecules, to measure the interference pattern of the first emitted electrons. At the same time as the interference pattern, the COLTRIMS reaction microscope also made it possible to determine the orientation of hydrogen molecules. Researchers here took advantage of the fact that the second electron also left the hydrogen molecule to detect the remaining hydrogen nuclei scattered.

“Since we knew the spatial orientation of the hydrogen molecule, we used the interference of the two electron waves to accurately calculate when the photon reached the first hydrogen atom and when it reached the second hydrogen atom. “Sven Grundmann, who is the basis of his dissertation, explains. Science articles on science. “And this is up to 247 zeptoseconds, depending on how far the two atoms are in the molecule in terms of light.”

Professor Reinhard Dörner adds: “For the first time, we have observed that the electron shell in a molecule does not react to light anywhere at the same time. Information in the molecule diffuses only at the speed of light, which causes a time delay. This discovery makes COLTRIMS technology another application. Expanded. “

Reference: Sven Grundmann, Daniel Trabert, Kilian Fehre, Nico Strenger, Andreas Pier, Leon Kaiser, Max Kircher, Miriam Weller, Sebastian Eckart, Lothar Ph. “Zepto Second Birth Time Delay in Molecular Photoionization” by H. Schmidt, Florian Trinter, Till, Jahnke, Markus S. Schöffler and Reinhard Dörner, October 16, 2020, Science.
DOI: 10.1126 / science.abb9318

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