Back in 1999, Egyptian chemist Ahmed Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize for speed measurement in which molecules change their shape, establishing femtochemistry in the process. Its measurements are made in femtosecond where a femtosecond equals 0.000000000000001 seconds, or 10-15 seconds
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Now, almost two decades later, atomic physicists at Goethe University led by Professor Reinhard Dörner have calculated a process shorter than femtoseconds for the first time: measuring how long a photon crosses in a hydrogen molecule.
This is the shortest time scale measured and costs about 247 zeptoseconds (a trillion of a billion of a second, or 10-21 seconds). To achieve this, scientists irradiated a hydrogen molecule with X-rays from the PETRA III X-ray laser source at the Hamburg accelerator facility DESY They set it up so that one photon was sufficient to release the same electrons from the hydrogen molecule.
Scientists calculate the disruption pattern of the first ejected electron using the COLTRIMS reaction microscope. This device is partially developed by Dörner and makes it see a very fast reaction process with atoms and molecules.
“Because we know the spatial orientation of the hydrogen molecule, we used the interference of two electron waves to accurately calculate when the photon reached the first and when the second hydrogen atom reached,” Sven Grundmann explained in a statement that the dissertation doctor is the basis of the resulting scientific article published in Science.
“And up to 247 zeptoseconds, it depends on how far between the molecules the two atoms are from the point of view of light.”
“We observed for the first time that the electron shell in a molecule does not respond to light anywhere at the same time. Time delay occurs because the information inside the molecule only diffuses at the speed of light. We have expanded our COLTRIMS technology to another application, “said Professor Reinhard Dörner.