An Atomic-Level View of Melting Using Femtosecond Electron Diffraction

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Science  21 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5649, pp. 1382-1385
DOI: 10.1126/science.1090052

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We used 600-femtosecond electron pulses to study the structural evolution of aluminum as it underwent an ultrafast laser–induced solid-liquid phase transition. Real-time observations showed the loss of long-range order that was present in the crystalline phase and the emergence of the liquid structure where only short-range atomic correlations were present; this transition occurred in 3.5picoseconds for thin-film aluminum with an excitation fluence of 70 millijoules per square centimeter. The sensitivity and time resolution were sufficient to capture the time-dependent pair correlation function as the system evolved from the solid to the liquid state. These observations provide an atomic-level description of the melting process, in which the dynamics are best understood as a thermal phase transition under strongly driven conditions.

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