Researchers present concept for a new technique to study superheavy elements

July 13, 2020

Superheavy elements are intriguing nuclear and atomic quantum systems that challenge experimental probing as they do not occur in nature and, when synthesized, vanish within seconds. Pushing the forefront atomic physics research to these elements requires breakthrough developments towards fast atomic spectroscopy techniques with extreme sensitivity. A joint effort within the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation program and led by Dr. Mustapha Laatiaoui from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) culminated in an optical spectroscopy proposal: The so-called Laser Resonance Chromatography (LRC) should enable such investigations even at minute production quantities. The proposal has recently been published in two articles in Physical Review Letters and Physical Review A.

Superheavy elements (SHEs) are found at the bottom part of the periodic table of elements. They represent a fertile ground for the development of understanding on how such exotic atoms can exist and work when an overwhelming number of electrons in atomic shells and protons and neutrons in the nucleus come together. Insights into their electronic structure can be obtained from optical spectroscopy experiments unveiling element-specific emission spectra. These spectra are powerful benchmarks for modern atomic-model calculations and could be useful, for example, when it comes to searching for traces of even heavier elements, which might be created in neutron-star merger events.

LRC approach combines different methods

Although SHEs have been discovered decades ago, their investigation by optical spectroscopy tools lack far behind the synthesis. This is because they are produced at extremely low rates at which traditional methods simply do not work. So far, optical spectroscopy ends at nobelium, element 102 in the periodic table. "Current techniques are at the limit of what is feasible," explained Laatiaoui. From the next heavier element on, the physicochemical properties change abruptly and impede providing samples in suitable atomic states."

Together with research colleagues, the physicist has therefore developed the new LRC approach in optical spectroscopy. This combines element selectivity and spectral precision of laser spectroscopy with ion-mobility mass spectrometry and merges the benefits of a high sensitivity with the "simplicity" of optical probing as in laser-induced fluorescence spectroscopy. Its key idea is to detect the products of resonant optical excitations not on the basis of fluorescent light as usual, but based on their characteristic drift time to a particle detector.

In their theoretical work, the researchers focused on singly charged lawrencium, element 103, and on its lighter chemical homolog. But the concept offers unparalleled access to laser spectroscopy of many other monoatomic ions across the periodic table, in particular of the transition metals including the high-temperature refractory metals and elements beyond lawrencium. Other ionic species like triply-charged thorium shall be within reach of the LRC approach as well. Moreover, the method enables to optimize signal-to-noise ratios and thus to ease ion mobility spectrometry, state-selected ion chemistry, and other applications.

Dr. Mustapha Laatiaoui came to Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM) in February 2018. In late 2018, he received an ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), one of the European Union's most valuable funding grants, for his research into the heaviest elements using laser spectroscopy and ion mobility spectroscopy. The current publications also included work that Laatiaoui had previously carried out at GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt and at KU Leuven in Belgium.

This work was conducted in cooperation with Alexei A. Buchachenko from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology and the Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics, both in Moscow, Russia, and Larry A. Viehland from Chatham University, Pittsburgh, USA.
-end-


Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz

Related Laser Articles from Brightsurf:

Laser technology: New trick for infrared laser pulses
For a long time, scientists have been looking for simple methods to produce infrared laser pulses.

Sensors get a laser shape up
Laser writing breathes life into high-performance sensing platforms.

Laser-powered nanomotors chart their own course
The University of Tokyo introduced a system of gold nanorods that acts like a tiny light-driven motor, with its direction of motion is determined by the orientation of the motors.

What laser color do you like?
Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland have developed a microchip technology that can convert invisible near-infrared laser light into any one of a panoply of visible laser colors, including red, orange, yellow and green.

Laser technology: The Turbulence and the Comb
While the light of an ordinary laser only has one single, well-defined wavelength, a so-called ''frequency comb'' consists of different light frequencies, which are precisely arranged at regular distances, much like the teeth of a comb.

A laser for penetrating waves
The 'Landau-level laser' is an exciting concept for an unusual radiation source.

Laser light detects tumors
A team of researchers from Jena presents a groundbreaking new method for the rapid, gentle and reliable detection of tumors with laser light.

The first laser radio transmitter
For the first time, researchers at Harvard School of Engineering have used a laser as a radio transmitter and receiver, paving the way for towards ultra-high-speed Wi-Fi and new types of hybrid electronic-photonic devices.

The random anti-laser
Scientists at TU Wien have found a way to build the 'opposite' of a laser -- a device that absorbs a specific light wave perfectly.

Laser 'drill' sets a new world record in laser-driven electron acceleration
Combining a first laser pulse to heat up and 'drill' through a plasma, and another to accelerate electrons to incredibly high energies in just tens of centimeters, scientists have nearly doubled the previous record for laser-driven particle acceleration at Berkeley Lab's BELLA Center.

Read More: Laser News and Laser Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.