Electrons are able to move within molecules, for example when they are excited from outside or in the course of a chemical reaction. For the first time, scientists have now succeeded in studying the first few dozen attoseconds of this electron movement in a liquid.
To understand how chemical reactions begin, chemists have been using super-slow motion experiments for years to study the very first moments of a reaction. These days, measurements with a resolution of a few dozen attoseconds are possible. An attosecond is 1×10-18 of a second, i.e. a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a second.
“In these first few dozen attoseconds of a reaction, you can already observe how electrons shift within molecules,” explains Hans Jakob Wörner, Professor at the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry at ETH Zurich. “Later, in the course of about 10,000 attoseconds or 10 femtoseconds, chemical reactions result in movements of atoms up to and including the breaking of chemical bonds.”
Five years ago, the ETH professor was one of the first scientists to be able to detect electron movements in molecules on the attosecond scale. However, up to now such measurements could be carried out only on molecules in gaseous form because they take place in a high-vacuum chamber.
Source: “Electron movements in liquid measured in super-slow motion”, Fabio Bergamin, Zurich ETH News