Research Article

All-optical control and metrology of electron pulses

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Science  22 Apr 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6284, pp. 429-433
DOI: 10.1126/science.aae0003

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Electron pulses under control

The ability to take snapshots of fast events can often provide insights into the dynamics of the processes involved: chemical reactions, electronic transport, structural transitions, and complex combinations involving of all of these processes. Kealhofer et al. describe an ultrafast optics approach for generating bunches of electrons and compressing them by more than an order of magnitude to just femtosecond time scales (see the Perspective by Ropers). The technique opens up the possibility of imaging ultrafast phenomena with atomic-scale spatial resolution.

Science, this issue p. 429; see also p. 410


Short electron pulses are central to time-resolved atomic-scale diffraction and electron microscopy, streak cameras, and free-electron lasers. We demonstrate phase-space control and characterization of 5-picometer electron pulses using few-cycle terahertz radiation, extending concepts of microwave electron pulse compression and streaking to terahertz frequencies. Optical-field control of electron pulses provides synchronism to laser pulses and offers a temporal resolution that is ultimately limited by the rise-time of the optical fields applied. We used few-cycle waveforms carried at 0.3 terahertz to compress electron pulses by a factor of 12 with a timing stability of <4 femtoseconds (root mean square) and measure them by means of field-induced beam deflection (streaking). Scaling the concept toward multiterahertz control fields holds promise for approaching the electronic time scale in time-resolved electron diffraction and microscopy.

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