Nav: Home

The unbelievable speed of electron emission from an atom

November 13, 2017

In a unique experiment, researchers have clocked how long it takes for an electron to be emitted from an atom. The result is 0.000 000 000 000 000 02 seconds, or 20 billionths of a billionth of a second. The researchers' stopwatch consists of extremely short laser pulses. Hopefully, the results will help to provide new insights into some of the most fundamental processes in nature.

Researchers from Lund, Stockholm and Gothenburg in Sweden have documented the incredibly brief moment when two electrons in a neon atom are emitted.

"When light hits the atom, the electrons absorb the energy from the light. An instant later the electrons are freed from the binding powers of the atom. This phenomenon, called photoionization, is one of the most fundamental processes of physics and was first theoretically mapped by Albert Einstein, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for this particular discovery", says Marcus Isinger, doctoral student in attophysics at Lund University in Sweden.

Photoionization is about the interaction between light and matter. This interaction is fundamental to photosynthesis and life on Earth - and enables researchers to study atoms.

"When atoms and molecules undergo chemical reactions, the electrons are the ones that do the heavy lifting. They regroup and move to allow new bonds between molecules to be created or destroyed. Following such a process in real time is a bit of a holy grail within science. We have now come one step closer", says Marcus Isinger.

Although neon is a relatively simple atom with a total of ten electrons, the experiment required both extremely careful timing, with a level of accuracy within one billionth of a billionth of a second (known as an attosecond), and extremely sensitive electron detection that could distinguish between electrons whose speed differed only by around one thousandth of an attojoule (a millionth of an electron's stationary energy).

The finding confirms several years of theoretical work and shows that attophysics is ready to take on more complex molecules.

"Being able to observe how molecules exchange electrons during a chemical reaction opens the door to completely new types of studies of a number of fundamental biological and chemical processes."

The new measuring technique circumvents the limitation formulated by the father of quantum physics, Werner Heisenberg, in 1927. According to "Heisenberg's uncertainty principle", it is not possible to determine the position and the speed of an electron at the same instant. However, now, the Swedish researchers have shown that it can, in fact, be done: through superposition (i.e. interference) of two short pulses of light with different wavelengths.
-end-


Lund University

Related Electrons Articles:

Flatter graphene, faster electrons
Scientists from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the Department of Physics at the University of Basel developed a technique to flatten corrugations in graphene layers.
Researchers develop one-way street for electrons
The work has shown that these electron ratchets create geometric diodes that operate at room temperature and may unlock unprecedented abilities in the illusive terahertz regime.
Photons and electrons one on one
The dynamics of electrons changes ever so slightly on each interaction with a photon.
Using light to put a twist on electrons
Method with polarized light can create and measure nonsymmetrical states in a layered material.
What if we could teach photons to behave like electrons?
The researchers tricked photons - which are intrinsically non-magnetic - into behaving like charged electrons.
Electrons in rapid motion
Researchers observe quantum interferences in real-time using a new extreme ultra-violet light spectroscopy technique.
Taming electrons with bacteria parts
In a new study, scientists at the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory report a new synthetic system that could guide electron transfer over long distances.
Hot electrons harvested without tricks
Semiconductors convert energy from photons into an electron current. However, some photons carry too much energy for the material to absorb.
Cooling nanotube resonators with electrons
In a study in Nature Physics, ICFO researchers report on a technique that uses electron transport to cool a nanomechanical resonator near the quantum regime.
New method for detecting quantum states of electrons
Researchers in the Quantum Dynamics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) devised a new method -- called image charge detection -- to detect electrons' transitions to quantum states.
More Electrons News and Electrons Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Mindset
In the past few months, human beings have come together to fight a global threat. This hour, TED speakers explore how our response can be the catalyst to fight another global crisis: climate change. Guests include political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac, diplomat Christiana Figueres, climate justice activist Xiye Bastida, and writer, illustrator, and artist Oliver Jeffers.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Speedy Beet
There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit. Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola. And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.