Researchers watch electrons as molecules change shape

October 31 2008 / by Garry Golden
Category: Energy   Year: Beyond   Rating: 1

What happened?
Research teams from the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Canada’s Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences have watched electrons rearrange themselves as molecules changes shape like a Slinky. The team shot a laser across a molecule of dinitrogen tetraoxide, or N2O4, to map the electron energy levels of the molecule as it changed shape.

Why is this important to the future of energy?
Advanced energy systems depend on our ability to understand how electrons rearrange themselves during chemical reactions. To trigger specific chemical reactions involved in producing energy, cleaning up hydrocarbons, and making materials with less energy we need to know how bonds are formed and broken between atoms.

“The Holy Grail in molecular sciences would be to be able to look at all aspects of a chemical reaction and to see how atoms are moving and how electrons are rearranging themselves as this happens,” researcher Margaret Murnane. “We’re not there yet, but this is a big step toward that goal.”

Why is it difficult? Changes in electron clouds happen on timescales of less than a femtosecond, or one quadrillionth of a second, representing some of the fastest processes in the natural world.

The research can be found in the October 30 issue of Science Express, the online version of the journal Science.

Research Team
CU-Boulder physics professors and JILA fellows Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, who led the research efforts with scientist Albert Stolow of the Canadian National Research Council’s Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences.

Via ScienceDaily
Via Physorg

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