High-speed videos of nuclear reactions with frames lasting less than one-billionth of one-billionth of a second may eventually be possible, owing to a theoretical scheme for making ultrashort laser pulses.

Longer pulses of light lasting several attoseconds (10−18 seconds) are already used to capture high-resolution films of atomic and electronic processes. The pulses are typically generated from X-rays that are emitted when electrons are scattered by infrared lasers and then recombine with parent atoms.

Carlos Hernández-García of the University of Colorado Boulder and his colleagues suggest an even more sensitive technique that involves measuring the interference pattern between X-ray pulses emitted from electrons that have been scattered and recombined multiple times, potentially generating pulses that last only hundreds of zeptoseconds (1 zeptosecond is 10−21 seconds). Such a timescale could be used to image subatomic processes.

Phys. Rev. Lett. 111, 033002 (2013)