Chemists have taken another step closer to understanding alkane activation reactions occurring at room temperature, thanks to an ultrafast spectroscopic technique that provides images at a rate of a trillionth of a second. Alkanes are compounds of carbon and hydrogen atoms held together by single bonds. The bonds in most alkanes tend to be strong enough to render them unreactive. In the 1980s, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the University of California, both at Berkeley, discovered a group of organometallic complexes that, when irradiated with UV light, generated a reaction that could break those carbon-hydrogen bonds. Because the reaction takes place within 230 ns, researchers at the Lawrence lab recently used a special time-resolved infrared flash kinetics spectrometer that operates on a femtosecond time-scale to irradiate alkanes and the organometallic complexes with UV light. This new technique enabled them to monitor the hydrogen-carbon activation reaction.