PerspectiveMaterials Science

A Picosecond View of Melting

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Science  21 Nov 2003:
Vol. 302, Issue 5649, pp. 1345-1346
DOI: 10.1126/science.1092489

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Conventional diffraction techniques cannot capture the rapid changes in atomic configuration that accompany processes such as melting or chemical reactions. In his Perspective, von der Linde highlights the report by Siwick et al., who use diffraction of ultrashort electron pulses to obtain snapshots of atomic structures with a time resolution of 500 femtoseconds. After heating aluminum metal very rapidly with a femtosecond laser pulse, they monitor the rapid changes in atomic configuration by recording time-dependent electron diffraction patterns. A picosecond after the laser excitation, a strongly superheated state of the solid phase is formed. During the next few picoseconds, long-range crystalline order is destroyed and a structure characteristic of the liquid state emerges.