Attosecond Science Research at JASLab
Advanced laser technology, some of it developed at NRC, is dramatically extending our control over almost all aspects of light and through it our ability to observe and control matter. The current state-of-the-art is:
Colour: How molecules respond to light of different colours is their "fingerprint". Each molecule reacts differently to a given colour. With laser technology we can define colours incredible accurately --- to one part in ~ 1015. There are about 1,000,000,000,000,000 distinct colours that can form a molecular fingerprint.
Time: Atoms and molecules are in constant motion. Reactions between them, involving fast electronic and vibrational motion power chemical and biological processes. Laser technology produces optical or electron pulses that are only 200 attoseconds (200/1,000,000,000,000,000,000 sec.) in duration. Ultrafast lasers allow us to measure the dynamics of many chemical reactions.
Intensity: Light is a wave of electric force. Electrical forces also hold electrons to ions in atoms and molecules or atoms together in molecules or solids. The forces exerted by lasers can approach or exceed the binding forces. Through these forces we have one important avenues for controlling the quantum world.
Phase: Phase is what distinguishes quantum and classical mechanics. Because of their short duration, femtosecond duration pulses contain a broad bandwidth of phased radiation. Quantum interference offers a second avenue for controlling quantum systems.
Attosecond Science: Lasers were discovered in 1960. They allow us to control light. Lasers ensure that modern science is as revolutionary as it was 100 years ago. Lasers allow us to:
Our research builds on a century old foundation. Nearly a century ago, quantum mechanics was developed to describe experiments on light-atom interactions. Fifty years ago the structures of small molecules were determined from studying how light interacts with them. Much of that research was done at NRC in the 1950's. This field of research was named spectroscopy. Now science is determining the structure of large molecules by how X-rays scatter from them.
The Attosecond and Strong Fields Science Project
Intense laser pulses apply forces to the charged components of atoms, molecules or solids. If they exceed the forces holding the electron to its ion, then ionization occurs. Since the forces are large, in the continuum, the electron responds to the field almost classically. Controlling the laser field coherently controls the ionized electrons.
Even if the field is insufficient to ionize, the field cannot be ignored. It mixes and shifts all levels. Since we control the field, we exercise a strong degree of control over the photoelectron spectrum. In molecules, this gives us a tool to probe and control the molecule.