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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fastest view of molecular motion

Scientists have made the fastest ever observations of motion in a molecule.

They "watched" parts of a molecule moving on an attosecond timescale - where one attosecond equals one billion-billionth of a second.

The researchers say the study gives a new in-depth understanding of chemical processes and could be used in future technologies like quantum computing.

The study, which relies on short pulses of light from a specially built laser, was published in the journal Science.

"Understanding how something changes in time means really understanding its essence, and we are now looking at changes on a very, very fast timescale," said team member Dr John Tisch, of Imperial College London, UK.

Ultra-fast process

The researchers devised a new technique to "see" the motion of protons, one of the building blocks of an atom, in molecules of hydrogen and methane.

The technique involves firing a very short but intense laser pulse at a molecule, which rips an electron away, leaving the molecule in an excited ionised state.

The electron is then drawn back to the molecule, and when it collides a very short burst of x-rays is released.



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