Researchers at Ohio State University and Kansas State University have captured the first-ever images of atoms moving in a molecule. Using a new ultrafast camera, researchers have recorded the first real-time image of two atoms vibrating in a molecule.

The team used ultrafast laser pulses to knock one electron out of its natural orbit in a molecule. The electron then fell back toward the molecule scattered off of it, analogous to the way a flash of light scatters around an object, or a water ripple scatters in a pond.

In the below image you can see molecular nitrogen.

DiMauro, Professor of physics at Ohio State said:

“Through these experiments, we realized that we can control the quantum trajectory of the electron when it comes back to the molecule, by adjusting the laser that launches it,”

“The next step will be to see if we can steer the electron in just the right way to actually control a chemical reaction.”

The study was conducted by using simple molecules like nitrogen and oxygen. The researchers hit the molecule with laser light pulses of 50 femtoseconds, or quadrillionths of a second. They were able to knock a single electron out of the outer shell of the molecule and detect the scattered signal of the electron as it re-collided with the molecule.

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Source: Ohio State University