Using a new ultra-fast camera, researchers have recorded the first real-time image of two atoms vibrating in a molecule. Key to the experiment, revealed in a recent issue of Nature, is the researchers’ use of the energy of a molecule’s own electron as a kind of “flashbulb” to illuminate the molecular motion. The team used ultra-fast laser pulses to knock one electron out of its natural orbit in a molecule. The electron then fell back toward the molecule scattered off of it, analogous to the way a flash of light scatters around an object, or a water ripple scatters in a pond.
Principal investigator Louis DiMauro of Ohio State University said the feat marked a first step towards not only observing chemical reactions, but also controlling them on an atomic scale. “ The next step will be to see if we can steer the electron in just the right way to actually control a chemical reaction.”