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Experimental observation of electron–hole recollisions


An intense laser field can remove an electron from an atom or molecule and pull the electron into a large-amplitude oscillation in which it repeatedly collides with the charged core it left behind1,2,3,4. Such recollisions result in the emission of very energetic photons by means of high-order-harmonic generation, which has been observed in atomic and molecular gases5,6,7 as well as in a bulk crystal8. An exciton is an atom-like excitation of a solid in which an electron that is excited from the valence band is bound by the Coulomb interaction to the hole it left behind9,10. It has been predicted that recollisions between electrons and holes in excitons will result in a new phenomenon: high-order-sideband generation11,12. In this process, excitons are created by a weak near-infrared laser of frequency fNIR. An intense laser field at a much lower frequency, fTHz, then removes the electron from the exciton and causes it to recollide with the resulting hole. New emission is predicted to occur as sidebands of frequency fNIR + 2nfTHz, where n is an integer that can be much greater than one. Here we report the observation of high-order-sideband generation in semiconductor quantum wells. Sidebands are observed up to eighteenth order (+18fTHz, or n = 9). The intensity of the high-order sidebands decays only weakly with increasing sideband order, confirming the non-perturbative nature of the effect. Sidebands are strongest for linearly polarized terahertz radiation and vanish when the terahertz radiation is circularly polarized. Beyond their fundamental scientific significance, our results suggest a new mechanism for the ultrafast modulation of light, which has potential applications in terabit-rate optical communications.

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Figure 1: Terahertz-sideband generation in a quantum well.
Figure 2: Dependence of sideband strength on terahertz laser intensity.
Figure 3: Dependence of the sideband intensity on the ellipticity of the FEL polarization.


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Samples are from the wafers grown at UCSB by C. Wang in the group of L. C. Coldren (15-nm quantum well) and by T. Truong in the group of P. M. Petroff (18- and 22-nm quantum wells; see Supplementary Information) for experiments described in refs 19 and 23, respectively. We would like to thank D. Enyeart for his help in running the UCSB FELs and N. H. Kwong for running simulations helpful to our understanding of these effects. This work was supported by NSF grant DMR-1006603 and Hong Kong RGC/GRF 401011.

Author information




B.Z. was responsible for conducting experiments and analysing the data presented, and for writing the paper. R.B.L. introduced M.S.S. to the predictions of HSG, and provided theoretical support. M.S.S. designed and supervised the study and edited the paper. All authors discussed the results and commented on the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to M. S. Sherwin.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Data, Supplementary Equations, Supplementary Figures 1-5 and additional references. (PDF 858 kb)

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Zaks, B., Liu, R. & Sherwin, M. Experimental observation of electron–hole recollisions. Nature 483, 580–583 (2012).

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