X-ray lasers can spot elusive electron motion

Scientists can track the movements of an atom’s nucleus relatively easily, but electrons have proven elusive — they move so fast that they tend to be reduced to blurs. Now, however, those movements could be crystal clear. Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Lab have developed a technique, X-ray laser-enhanced attosecond pulse generation (XLEAP), that…

Scientists can track the movements of an atom’s nucleus relatively easily, but electrons have proven elusive — they move so fast that they tend to be reduced to blurs. Now, however, those movements could be crystal clear. Researchers at the SLAC National Accelerator Lab have developed a technique, X-ray laser-enhanced attosecond pulse generation (XLEAP), that can observe even the fastest motions of electrons. The laser pulses at just 280 attoseconds, or billionths of a billionth of a second, and can create snapshots of electrons to track their progress. The trick was to modify the laser in a way that squeezed electrons into tighter groups, making for shorter X-ray bursts.

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