Observation of Partial Wave Resonances in Low-Energy O2–H2 Inelastic Collisions

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Science  06 Sep 2013:
Vol. 341, Issue 6150, pp. 1094-1096
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241395

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Quantum Collision Course

Our experience of a world apparently governed by classical physics is a consequence of the fact that quantum mechanical effects average out in size regimes much larger than nanometers. Even at the molecular level, the quantized nature of rotational energy distributions is often obscured by averaging effects. Chefdeville et al. (p. 1094; see the Perspective by Casavecchia and Alexander) have observed a striking manifestation of quantized rotation in the scattering trajectories of colliding H2 and O2 molecular beams. The experimentally resolved partial wave resonances show essentially complete agreement with theoretical calculations and deviate starkly from classical collision paradigms.


Partial wave resonances predicted to occur in bimolecular collision processes have proven challenging to observe experimentally. Here, we report crossed-beam experiments and quantum-scattering calculations on inelastic collisions between ground-state O2 and H2 molecules that provide state-to-state cross sections for rotational excitation of O2 (rotational state N = 1, j = 0) to O2 (N = 1, j = 1) in the vicinity of the thermodynamic threshold at 3.96 centimeter−1. The close agreement between experimental and theoretical results confirms the classically forbidden character of this collision-induced transition, which occurs exclusively in a purely quantum mechanical regime via shape and Feshbach resonances arising from partial waves with total angular momentum (J) = 2 to 4.

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