Tracing orbital images on ultrafast time scales

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Science  05 Mar 2021:
Vol. 371, Issue 6533, pp. 1056-1059
DOI: 10.1126/science.abf3286

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Electron dynamics in time and space

Following molecular excitation and electron transfer processes in time and space within a single experiment is a long-standing goal of spectroscopy in the field of chemistry. Wallauer et al. combined tomographic photoemission imaging with a femtosecond pump-probe scheme to trace the excited state molecular orbitals of surface-adsorbed molecules with both spatial and temporal resolution. The present demonstration opens a new window for investigating the ultrafast electron transfer dynamics in such processes as chemical reactions on surfaces and intermolecular charge transfers.

Science, this issue p. 1056


Frontier orbitals determine fundamental molecular properties such as chemical reactivities. Although electron distributions of occupied orbitals can be imaged in momentum space by photoemission tomography, it has so far been impossible to follow the momentum-space dynamics of a molecular orbital in time, for example, through an excitation or a chemical reaction. Here, we combined time-resolved photoemission using high laser harmonics and a momentum microscope to establish a tomographic, femtosecond pump-probe experiment of unoccupied molecular orbitals. We measured the full momentum-space distribution of transiently excited electrons, connecting their excited-state dynamics to real-space excitation pathways. Because in molecules this distribution is closely linked to orbital shapes, our experiment may, in the future, offer the possibility of observing ultrafast electron motion in time and space.

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