A Lower Tunnel

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Science  11 Sep 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5946, pp. 1317
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_1317f

Among the peculiarities inherent in quantum mechanics is the ability of particles to tunnel through barriers that they lack the energy to surmount classically, as happens during radioactive decay. Strong laser fields can liberate electrons in this way from atoms and molecules. Akagi et al. (p. 1364) elegantly confirm that tunneling is not limited to the highest-energy electrons in a system by mapping the energy and momentum of both the ejected electron and positive ion produced when an intense laser pulse impinges on hydrogen chloride. When the molecule adopts specific orientations relative to the laser field, tunneling occurs from lower-lying states, as well as the highest-energy occupied orbital. This raises the possibility of tunneling microscopy capable of imaging the electronic structure of single molecules.

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