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ICFO Researchers Image Molecular Bond Breakup

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BARCELONA, Spain, Oct. 25, 2016 — Researchers from the Institute of Photonic Sciences’ (ICFO) Attoscience and Ultrafast Optics Group have reported on the imaging of molecular bond breakup in acetylene (C2H2) 9 fs after its ionization.

The team was able to track the individual atoms of the isolated acetylene molecule with a spatial resolution of 0.05 Å and a temporal resolution of 0.6 fs. They were also able to trigger the breakup of one molecule bond and see how one proton leaves the molecule.

Illustration of laser-induced diffraction imaging of a molecular bond breakup in acetylene. Courtesy of ICFO/Scixel.

“Our method has finally achieved the required space and time resolution to take snapshots of molecular dynamics without missing any of its events, and we are eager to try it out on other molecular systems such as chemical catalysts and bio-relevant systems” said Jens Biegert, ICFO professor and research leader.

The team developed a world-leading ultrafast mid-IR laser source and combined it with a reaction microscope to detect the 3D momentum distribution of electrons and ions in full kinematic coincidence. In the experiment, a single isolated acetylene molecule was oriented in space with a short laser pulse. A strong infrared pulse liberated one electron from the molecule, accelerated it on a returning trajectory and forced it to scatter off its own parent molecular ion, all within only 9 fs.

“The flight path and kinetic energy of all collision fragments were recorded with the reaction microscope similar to a big particle physics experiment,” said researcher Benjamin Wolter.

The team was able to extract the entire molecular structure and show that orienting the molecule along the electric field of the laser, or perpendicular to it, completely changed its dynamics. In one case, the molecule underwent vibrational motion with the laser field, while in the other case a C-H bond was clearly broken. The experiment is the first direct visualization of bond cleavage and observation of the proton during its departure from the [C2H2]2+ ion, something that has never been seen before.

“We took one electron, steered it along a specific path with the laser and scattered it off an isolated molecule to record its diffraction pattern,” Biegert said. “It is mind-boggling to imagine the length and time scales of the experiment. The fantastic cooperation between experimentalists and theorists, atomic physicists and quantum chemists from ICFO, Kansas State University, Max-Planck-Institut für Kernphysik, Physikalisch Technische Bundesanstalt, Center for Free Electron Laser Science/DESY/CUI, Aarhus University, Friedrich-Schiller University Jena, Leiden University and Universität Kassel made it possible to achieve such feat.”
Oct 2016
energylasersIRMicroscopyResearch & TechnologyTech Pulse

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