Ultra-High-Speed ‘Electron Camera’ can open up deeper molecular studies
An extremely fast “electron camera” at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory has produced the most detailed atomic movie of the decisive point where molecules hit by light can either stay intact or break apart. The results could give a better idea of how molecules respond to light in processes that are crucial for life, like photosynthesis and vision, or that are potentially harmful, such as DNA damage from ultraviolet light.
Researchers looked at a gas whose molecules have five atoms each. They watched in real time how light stretched the bond between two atoms in the molecules to a “point of no return,” sending the molecules on a path that either further separated the atoms and cleaved the bond or caused the atoms to vibrate while preserving the bond.
“The starting and end points of a chemical reaction are often obvious, but it’s much more challenging to take snapshots of the rapid reaction steps in between,” said postdoctoral researcher Jie Yang, the study’s lead author from SLAC’s Accelerator Directorate and the Stanford PULSE Institute. “The crossroads where a molecule can do one thing or another are an important factor in determining the outcome of a reaction. Now we’ve been able to observe directly for the first time how the atomic nuclei of a molecule rearrange at such an intersection.”
The complete report on the study is available on SLAC’s website.