Researchers get first glimpse of electrons escaping atoms, paving the way for creating new states of matter

Scientists, for the first time, have observed an atom absorbing light, and tracked a single electron escaping. Researchers from the Ohio State University were able to follow the change of momentum over an incredibly short period of time that allowed the electron to break free from the atom. Observing an escaping electron is the first step in being able to control the movements of electrons within matter, potentially allowing researchers to create new forms of matter.

The white sphere here is the atom. The blue dashed line are light waves, the purple line is the trajectory of the escaping electron. The red wave is laser light providing a frame of reference. Image: OSU.

The white sphere here is the atom. The blue dashed line are light waves, the purple line is the trajectory of the escaping electron. The red wave is laser light providing a frame of reference. Image: OSU.

A more immediate consequence of the research is that scientists can now classify the behavior of electrons in different elements. The eventual aim of the researchers is to be able to orchestrate the movements of individual subatomic particles within a molecule with granularity.

The leader of the team, professor Louis DiMauro said, "If you think of each snapshot we take as a frame in a movie, maybe someday we could stop the movie at one particular frame and change what happens next—say, by poking an electron with light and changing its direction. It would be like going inside a chemical reaction and making the reaction happen in a different way than it would naturally."

The scientists used a method called Reconstruction of Attosecond Beating By Interfering Two-photon Transitions (RABBIT) for observing the electron within the atom. The method has been around for more than fifteen years, to study quantum states in very small intervals of time, but has so far been used only to observe free electrons. The findings of the research have been published in Nature Science.


Published Date: Oct 03, 2017 11:53 am | Updated Date: Oct 03, 2017 11:53 am