Pieces of Light

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Science  14 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6053, pp. 153
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6053.153-a

Waves consist of peaks and troughs, whether the oscillating medium is water in the ocean or electromagnetic energy in light. If waves with different wavelengths overlap precisely, the pattern gets more complex and less repetitive until eventually, with enough components, there is no cycle left—just an isolated blip pointing in some discrete direction. Wirth et al. (p. 195, published online 8 September) have achieved this subcycle state of light by packing a vast spectrum of light (from the near-infrared through the visible and into the ultraviolet) with a well-controlled phase into a single tight pulse. They further demonstrate the potential of the light pulses in probing atomic electron dynamics at the fastest time scales.

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