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Electron spin polarization in strong-field ionization of xenon atoms


As a fundamental property of the electron, the spin plays a decisive role in the electronic structure of matter, from solids to molecules and atoms, for example, by causing magnetism. Yet, despite its importance, the spin dynamics of the electrons released during the interaction of atoms with strong ultrashort laser pulses has remained experimentally unexplored1,2. Here, we report the experimental detection of electron spin polarization by the strong-field ionization of xenon atoms and support our results with theoretical analysis. We found up to 30% spin polarization changing its sign with electron energy. This work opens the new dimension of spin to strong-field physics. It paves the way to the production of sub-femtosecond spin-polarized electron pulses with applications ranging from probing the magnetic properties of matter at ultrafast timescales3 to testing chiral molecular systems with sub-femtosecond temporal and sub-ångström spatial resolutions.

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Figure 1: Spin polarization of the electrons ejected by strong-field ionization of Xe parallel to the direction of light propagation by circularly polarized laser pulses.
Figure 2: Ionization process and theoretical energy distribution of s and p states.
Figure 3: Calculated kinetic energy distributions for electrons correlated with different Xe+ states.


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The experimental work was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. A.H. and K.H. acknowledge support from the German National Merit Foundation. M.I. acknowledges support from the EPSRC Programme Grant EP/I032517/1 and the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research program no. FA9550-12-1-0482. F.M. and O.S. acknowledge support from the DFG grant SM 292/2-3.

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All authors edited and commented on the manuscript. A.H. and M.K. carried out the measurements. A.H., M.K., K.H., M.R., T.J., A.K., M.S. and L.S. built up the experimental set-up. A.H. and A.L. analysed the experimental data. F.M., M.I. and O.S. carried out the numerical simulations. R.D. supervised all work.

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Correspondence to Alexander Hartung.

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Hartung, A., Morales, F., Kunitski, M. et al. Electron spin polarization in strong-field ionization of xenon atoms. Nature Photon 10, 526–528 (2016).

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