Pas de Deux for Atomic Electrons

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Science  06 Feb 2004:
Vol. 303, Issue 5659, pp. 778-779
DOI: 10.1126/science.1093908

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In atoms with many electrons, the motion of the electrons can be exceedingly complex. When they are in excited orbits, the electrons can occasionally collide, providing enough energy to knock one of them out of the atom. In his Perspective, Stroud discusses the report by Pisharody and Jones in which precisely timed laser pulses are used to induce these kinds of "autoionizing" processes. From the viewpoint of classical physics, the electron orbits may behave like planets around the Sun, but quantum effects change the picture considerably. Nonetheless, Pisharody and Jones observe that the classical orbits underlie the quantum motion. Moreover, writes Stroud, the work opens a new era of laser control of many-electron atoms.