Excitation and Decay of Correlated Atomic States

Science  27 Nov 1992:
Vol. 258, Issue 5087, pp. 1444-1451
DOI: 10.1126/science.258.5087.1444


Doubly excited states of atoms and ions in which two electrons are excited from the ground configuration display strong radial and angular electron correlations. They are prototypical examples of quantum-mechanical systems with strong coupling. Two distinguishing characteristics of these states are: (i) their organization into successive families, with only weak coupling between families, and (ii) a hierarchical nature of this coupling, with states from one family decaying primarily to those in the next lower family. A view of the pair of electrons as a single entity, with the electron-electron repulsion between them divided into an adiabatic and a nonadiabatic piece, accounts for many of the dominant features. The stronger, adiabatic part determines the family structure and the weaker, nonadiabatic part the excitation and decay between successive families. Similar considerations extend to three-electron atomic states, which group into five different classes. They are suggestive of composite models for quarks in elementary particle physics, which exhibit analogous groupings into families with a hierarchical arrangement of masses and electroweak decays.

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