Letters to Nature

Nature 414, 286-289 (15 November 2001) | doi:10.1038/35104522; Received 14 June 2001; Accepted 18 September 2001

How many-particle interactions develop after ultrafast excitation of an electron–hole plasma

R. Huber1, F. Tauser1, A. Brodschelm1, M. Bichler2, G. Abstreiter2 & A. Leitenstorfer1

  1. Physik-Department E11, Technische Universität München, James-Franck-Strasse, D-85748 Garching, Germany
  2. Walter-Schottky-Institut, Technische Universität München, Am Coulombwall, D-85748 Garching, Germany

Correspondence to: A. Leitenstorfer1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.L. (e-mail: Email: aleitens@ph.tum.de).

Electrostatic coupling between particles is important in many microscopic phenomena found in nature. The interaction between two isolated point charges is described by the bare Coulomb potential, but in many-body systems this interaction is modified as a result of the collective response of the screening cloud surrounding each charge carrier1, 2. One such system involves ultrafast interactions between quasi-free electrons in semiconductors3, 4—which are central to high-speed and future quantum electronic devices. The femtosecond kinetics of nonequilibrium Coulomb systems has been calculated using static5, 6 and dynamical7, 8 screening models that assume the instantaneous formation of interparticle correlations. However, some quantum kinetic theories9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 suggest that a regime of unscreened bare Coulomb collisions might exist on ultrashort timescales. Here we monitor directly the temporal evolution of the charge–charge interactions after ultrafast excitation of an electron–hole plasma in GaAs. We show that the onset of collective behaviour such as Coulomb screening and plasmon scattering exhibits a distinct time delay of the order of the inverse plasma frequency, that is, several 10-14 seconds.