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Ultrafast electron diffraction from laser-aligned molecules in the gas phase

Jie Yang, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Ultrafast electron diffraction has emerged since the end of last century, and has become an increasingly important tool for revealing great details of molecular dynamics. In comparison to spectroscopic techniques, ultrafast electron diffraction directly probes time-resolved structure of target molecules, and therefore can potentially provide “molecular movies” of the reactions being studied. These molecular movies are critical for understanding and ultimately controlling the energy conversion pathways and efficiencies of photochemical processes. In this dissertation, I have focused on ultrafast electron diffraction from gas-phase molecules, and have investigated several long-standing challenges that have been preventing researchers from being able to achieve 3-D molecular movies of photochemical reactions. The first challenge is to resolve the full 3-D structure for molecules in the gas phase. The random orientation of molecules in the gas phase smears out the diffraction signal, which results in only 1-D structural information being accessible. The second challenge lies in temporal resolution. In order to resolve coherent nuclear motions on their natural time scale, a temporal resolution of ∼200 femtosecond or better is required. However, due to experimental limitations the shortest temporal resolution that had been achieved was only a few picoseconds in early 2000, by Zewail group from Caltech. The first challenge is tackled by laser-alignment. In the first half of the dissertation, I approach this method both theoretically and experimentally, and demonstrate that by using a short laser pulse to transiently align target molecules in space, 3-D molecular structure can be reconstructed ab-initio from diffraction patterns. The second half of the dissertation presents two experiments, both of which are important steps toward imaging coherent nuclear motions in real time during photochemical reactions. The first experiment simultaneously resolves molecular alignment, structural deformation, and dissociation using ultrafast electron diffraction. I demonstrate that the method is sensitive enough to resolve small structural deformations. In the 2nd experiment, relativistic electrons are employed to achieve a record 230 femtosecond temporal resolution. This is the first experimental demonstration of relativistic electron diffraction on gaseous molecules, and enables a new class of experiments in which photochemical reactions can be resolved in both space and time.

Subject Area

Physics|Molecular physics

Recommended Citation

Yang, Jie, "Ultrafast electron diffraction from laser-aligned molecules in the gas phase" (2016). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10099957.