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Oct 16, 2020

Zeptoseconds: New world record in short time measurement

Posted by in categories: chemistry, physics

In 1999, the Egyptian chemist Ahmed Zewail received the Nobel Prize for measuring the speed at which molecules change their shape. He founded femtochemistry using ultrashort laser flashes: the formation and breakup of chemical bonds occurs in the realm of femtoseconds.

Now, atomic physicists at Goethe University in Professor Reinhard Dörner’s team have for the first time studied a process that is shorter than femtoseconds by magnitudes. They measured how long it takes for a photon to cross a hydrogen molecule: about 247 zeptoseconds for the average bond length of the molecule. This is the shortest timespan that has been successfully measured to date.

The scientists carried out the time measurement on a hydrogen molecule (H2) which they irradiated with X-rays from the X-ray laser source PETRA III at the Hamburg accelerator facility DESY. The researchers set the energy of the X-rays so that one photon was sufficient to eject both out of the hydrogen molecule.

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