January 28, 2023

An ultrafast microscope for the quantum world

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart, have developed a microscope for the extremely fast processes that take place on the quantum scale.

This microscope allows the precise tracking of electron movements down to the individual atom. Researchers can now also identify precisely where the filmed electron is located down to the individual atom.

For a number of years, physicists have used laser pulses of a sufficiently short length as an attosecond camera. But an attosecond image delivered only a snapshot of an electron against what was essentially a blurred background.

The team now uses ultrashort laser pulses in conjunction with a scanning tunnelling microscope. The latter achieves atomic-scale resolution by scanning a surface with a tip that itself is ideally made up of just a single atom. Electrons tunnel between the tip and the surface. The researchers fire these extremely short pulses of light at the microscope tip — which is positioned with atomic precision — to trigger the tunneling process.

The paper has been published in Science.

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