A team of researchers including University of California, Riverside Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Ludwig Bartels has developed a technique to take extremely fast snapshots of molecular and atomic movement.

The development is considered a significant advance in surface science, the study of chemical reactions taking place on the surface of solids.

The results are reported in the current issue of the Journal Science and were also reported in the June 24 issue of Science Express… the online prerelease of the most important articles in Science. The article, “Real-Space Observation of Molecular Motion Induced by Femtosecond Laser Pulses,” details how carbon monoxide molecules move on a copper substrate when hit with extremely rapid laser pulses – a femtosecond is one millionth of a nanosecond – and tracks their movements.

“It was possible to identify the individual site-to-site displacements of molecules undergoing ultra-fast dynamics induced by femtosecond laser pulses,” Bartels said, characterizing the technique as a way of getting something akin to snapshots of the molecules’ movements. Bartels’ co-authors in the paper included Tony F. Heinz, Dietmar Möller and Feng Wang of Columbia University; and Ernst Knoesel of Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ.

“Scanning probe microscopy has the capability of reaching directly down to the natural spatial scale of atoms and molecules,” Bartels said. “While femtosecond laser techniques have the capability of reaching down to the time scale of atomic events.

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