March 7, 2008
For the first time ever, scientists have captured on video one of the most fundamental elementary particles in the universe: the electron.
As one of the fastest objects in the universe, it has been impossible to photograph or film one until now. Led by Dr. J. Mauritsson at Lund University Faculty of Engineering in Sweden, this new technology captures the entire movement of an electron using short pulses of intense laser light, called attosecond pulses.
“It takes about 150 attoseconds for an electron to circle the nucleus of an atom. An attosecond is 10-18 seconds long, or, expressed in another way: an attosecond is related to a second as a second is related to the age of the universe. By taking several pictures of exactly the same moment in the process, it’s possible to create stronger, but still sharp, images. A precondition is for the process to be repeated in an identical manner, which is the case regarding the movement of an electron in a ray of light. We started with a so-called stroboscope. A stroboscope enables us to ‘freeze’ a periodic movement, like capturing a hummingbird flapping its wings. You then take several pictures when the wings are in the same position, such as at the top, and the picture will turn out clear, despite the rapid motion,” clarifies Johan Mauritsson.
Most importantly, this new technology allows us to capture the collision between an electron and an atom on film or what happens when you remove an inner electron from an atom.
To watch the actual video of an electron riding a light wave after being pulled away from an atom, visit the Lund University Atomic Physics page.
Also on the same page is a link to read more about this research in the article “Coherent Electron Scattering Captured by an Attosecond Quantum Stroboscope” published in Physical Review Letters (PDF).