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Ultrafast generation and control of an electron vortex beam via chiral plasmonic near fields


Vortex-carrying matter waves, such as chiral electron beams, are of significant interest in both applied and fundamental science. Continuous-wave electron vortex beams are commonly prepared via passive phase masks imprinting a transverse phase modulation on the electron’s wavefunction. Here, we show that femtosecond chiral plasmonic near fields enable the generation and dynamic control on the ultrafast timescale of an electron vortex beam. The vortex structure of the resulting electron wavepacket is probed in both real and reciprocal space using ultrafast transmission electron microscopy. This method offers a high degree of scalability to small length scales and a highly efficient manipulation of the electron vorticity with attosecond precision. Besides the direct implications in the investigation of nanoscale ultrafast processes in which chirality plays a major role, we further discuss the perspectives of using this technique to shape the wavefunction of charged composite particles, such as protons, and how it can be used to probe their internal structure.

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The LUMES laboratory acknowledges support from the NCCR MUST. G.M.V. is partially supported by the EPFL-Fellows-MSCA international fellowship (grant agreement no. 665667). R.J.L. and D.M. acknowledge funding support of R.J.L. by an EPSRC DTG studentship. I.K. is supported by the Azrieli Foundation and partially supported by the FP7-Marie Curie IOF under grant no. 328853-MC-BSiCS. V.G. is supported by the European project Q-SORT, which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 766970. H.L. and E.K. acknowledge support from the Canada Research Chair (CRC) and Early Researcher Award (ERA). F.J.G.d.A. acknowledges support from the ERC (advanced grant 789104-eNANO), the Spanish MINECO (MAT2017-88492-R and SEV2015-0522) and the Catalan CERCA and Fundació Privada Cellex. B.B. acknowledges support with this material by the NSF under grant no. 1759847.

Author information

G.M.V., G.B., I.M., F.C., F.J.G.d.A. and E.K. conceived and designed the research. G.M.V., G.B., I.M. and E.P. conducted the experiments and analysed the data. R.J.L., D.M., I.M. and G.M.V. fabricated the samples. F.J.G.d.A. developed the semi-analytical theory and performed the calculations. P.B. performed the FDTD simulations. V.G. performed the electron vortex beam calculations. H.L. and E.K. performed the proton vortex beam calculations. G.M.V., G.B., I.M., O.R., I.K., B.B., V.G., E.K., F.J.G.d.A. and F.C. interpreted the results. All authors contributed to writing the article, and read and approved the final manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to G. M. Vanacore.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Sections 1–5, Supplementary Figs. 1–11, Supplementary refs. 1–8

  2. Supplementary Video 1

    Coherent modulation of the intensity and of the spatial periodicity of the plasmonic fringes with a temporal 223 period given by the optical cycle of ~2.67 fs.

  3. Supplementary Video 2

    Experimentally measured spatial maps of the inelastically scattered electrons when using two elliptically polarized light pulses.

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Fig. 1: Generation and detection of chiral SPPs.
Fig. 2: One-to-one correspondence between the complex SPP optical field and the transverse distribution of the electron wavefunction.
Fig. 3: Generation and detection of an ultrafast electron vortex beam via interaction with a chiral plasmonic near field.
Fig. 4: Dynamic phase control of the electron/chiral-plasmon interactions.