Ultrafast electron diffraction imaging of bond breaking in di-ionized acetylene

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Science  21 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6310, pp. 308-312
DOI: 10.1126/science.aah3429

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Acetylene's scission visualized by selfie

Can molecules take pictures of themselves? That is more or less the principle underlying laser-induced electron diffraction (LIED): A laser field strips an electron from a molecule and then sends it back to report on the structure of the remaining ion. Wolter et al. applied this technique to acetylene to track the cleavage of its C–H bond after double ionization (see the Perspective by Ruan). They imaged the full structure of the molecule and also distinguished more rapid dissociative dynamics when it was oriented parallel rather than perpendicular to the LIED field.

Science, this issue p. 308; see also p. 283


Visualizing chemical reactions as they occur requires atomic spatial and femtosecond temporal resolution. Here, we report imaging of the molecular structure of acetylene (C2H2) 9 femtoseconds after ionization. Using mid-infrared laser–induced electron diffraction (LIED), we obtained snapshots as a proton departs the [C2H2]2+ ion. By introducing an additional laser field, we also demonstrate control over the ultrafast dissociation process and resolve different bond dynamics for molecules oriented parallel versus perpendicular to the LIED field. These measurements are in excellent agreement with a quantum chemical description of field-dressed molecular dynamics.

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