For the first time ever, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Germany and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif. have been able to watch an atom’s electrons move around in the atom’s outer shell. This marks a breakthrough that has the potential to shape and direct our current understanding of chemical processes towards a much better understanding.
The team of scientists were able to time the slight oscillations between the quantum states of valence electrons by using very short flashes of laser light in a process called attosecond absorption spectroscopy. By watching how electrons move, scientists can begin to understand the mechanics of these tiny particles in order to learn how they bond and laws that govern how they bond to make up everything around us. Until now, this has been impossible due to the tremendous speed of electrons.
“With a simple system of krypton atoms, we demonstrated, for the first time, that we can measure transient absorption dynamics with attosecond pulses,” says Stephen Leone of Berkeley Lab’s Chemical Sciences Division, who is also a professor of chemistry and physics at UC Berkeley. “This revealed details of a type of electronic motion – coherent superposition – that can control properties in many systems.”
Bottom line is that this is a huge breakthrough in the study of the properties of the particles that make up everything we see around us. By understanding the mechanics of atoms, we may be able to learn more about the four major forces, and possibly, in time, learn how to bend them.