PerspectivePhysics

Tracking the dynamics of electron expulsion

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Science  16 Jun 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6343, pp. 1126
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan5213

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Summary

Since the birth of quantum mechanics, scientists have been dreaming of imaging, and possibly controlling, the motion of electrons in atoms and molecules. These electrons are described in the quantum theory by wave functions. However, the wave function is an elusive quantity: It is a complex function with an amplitude and phase, but its square modulus is usually the only quantity directly measurable in experiments. In addition, visualizing the electron dynamics requires extremely high temporal resolution, on the order of attoseconds (1 as = 10−18 s). On page 1150 of this issue, Villeneuve et al. (1) report on an elegant experiment that demonstrates the possibility of fully reconstructing the electron wave function in the photoionization of neon and thus paving the way for coherent control of the process.