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Femtosecond laser control of a chemical reaction

Abstract

THE critical stage in a chemical reaction — the progression through the transition state from reagents to products — occurs in less than a picosecond (10−12 s). Using laser pulses of femtosecond (10−15 s) duration it is possible to probe the nuclear motions throughout formation and break-up of the transition state1,2. The coherence and very short duration of these femtosecond pulses provides a means to influence the course of the reaction during this stage if the time resolution is made sufficiently short. Here we describe a demonstration of such control of a chemical reaction on the femtosecond timescale. Using two sequential coherent laser pulses, we can control the reaction of iodine molecules with xenon atoms to form the product XeI by exciting the reactants through the transition state, in a two-step process. The yield of product XeI is modulated as the delay between the pulses is varied, reflecting its dependence on the nuclear motions of the reactants.

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Potter, E., Herek, J., Pedersen, S. et al. Femtosecond laser control of a chemical reaction. Nature 355, 66–68 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1038/355066a0

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